(Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 4, part 22)
Chapter 20. Of civil government 
    This chapter consists of two principal heads, - I. General 
discourse on the necessity, dignity, and use of Civil Government, in 
opposition to the frantic proceedings of the Anabaptists, sec. 1-3. 
II. A special exposition of the three leading parts of which Civil 
Government consists, sec. 4-32. 
    The first part treats of the function of Magistrates, whose 
authority and calling is proved, sec. 4-7. Next, the three forms of 
civil government are added, sec. 8. Thirdly, Consideration of the 
office of the civil magistrate in respect of piety and 
righteousness. Here, of rewards and punishments, viz., punishing the 
guilty, protecting the innocent, repressing the seditious, managing, 
the affairs of peace and war, sec. 9-13. The second part treats of 
Laws, their utility, necessity, form, authority, constitution, and 
scope, sec. 14-16. The last part relates to the People, and explains 
the use of laws, courts, and magistrates, to the common society of 
Christians, sec. 17-21. Deference which private individuals owe to 
magistrates, and how far obedience ought to be carried, sec. 22-32. 
1. Last part of the whole work, relating to the institution of Civil 
    Government. The consideration of it necessary, 1. To refute the 
    Anabaptists. 2. To refute the flatterers of princes. 3. To 
    excite our gratitude to God. Civil government not opposed to 
    Christian liberty. Civil government to be distinguished from 
    the spiritual kingdom of Christ. 
2. Objections of the Anabaptists, 1. That civil government is 
    unworthy of a Christian man. 2. That it is diametrically 
    repugnant to the Christian profession. Answer. 
3. The answer confirmed. Discourse reduced to three heads, 1. Of 
    Laws. 2. Of Magistrates. 3. Of the People. 
4. The office of Magistrates approved by God. 1. They are called 
    Gods. 2. They are ordained by the wisdom of God. Examples of 
    pious Magistrates. 
5. Civil government appointed by God for Jews, not Christians. This 
    objection answered. 
6. Divine appointment of Magistrates. Effect which this ought to 
    have on Magistrates themselves. 
7. This consideration should repress the fury of the Anabaptists. 
8. Three forms of civil government, Monarchy, Aristocracy, 
    Democracy. Impossible absolutely to say which is best. 
9. Of the duty of Magistrates. Their first care the preservation of 
    the Christian religion and true piety. This proved. 
10. Objections of Anabaptists to this view. These answered. 
11. Lawfulness of War. 
12. Objection that the lawfulness of War is not taught in Scripture. 
13. Right of exacting tribute and raising revenues. 
14. Of Laws, their necessity and utility. Distinction between the 
    Moral, Ceremonial, and Judicial Law of Moses. 
15. Sum and scope of the Moral Law. Of the Ceremonial and Judicial 
    Law. Conclusion. 
16. All laws should be just. Civil law of Moses; how far in force, 
    and how far abrogated. 
17. Of the People, and of the use of laws as respects individuals. 
18. How far litigation lawful. 
19. Refutation of the Anabaptists, who condemn all judicial 
20. Objection, that Christ forbids us to resist evil. Answer. 
21. Objection, that Paul condemns law-suits absolutely. Answer. 
22. Of the respect and obedience due to Magistrates. 
23. Same subject continued. 
24. How far submission due to tyrants. 
25. Same continued. 
26. Proof from Scripture. 
27. Proof continued. 
28. Objections answered. 
29. Considerations to curb impatience under tyranny. 
30. Considerations considered. 
31. General submission due by private individuals. 
32. Obedience due only in so far as compatible with the word of God. 
    1. Having shown above that there is a twofold government in 
man, and having fully considered the one which, placed in the soul 
or inward man, relates to eternal life, we are here called to say 
something of the other, which pertains only to civil institutions 
and the external regulation of manners. For although this subject 
seems from its nature to be unconnected with the spiritual doctrine 
of faith, which I have undertaken to treat, it will appear, as we 
proceed, that I have properly connected them, nay, that I am under 
the necessity Of doing so, especially while, on the one hand, 
frantic and barbarous men are furiously endeavouring to overturn the 
order established by God, and, on the other, the flatterers of 
princess extolling their power without measure, hesitate not to 
oppose it to the government of God. Unless we meet both extremes, 
the purity of the faith will perish. We may add, that it in no small 
degree concerns us to know how kindly God has here consulted for the 
human race, that pious zeal may the more strongly urge us to testify 
our gratitude. And first, before entering on the subject itself, it 
is necessary to attend to the distinction which we formerly laid 
down, (Book 3 Chap. 19 sec. 16;, et supra, Chap. 10:,) lest, as 
often happens to many, we imprudently confound these two things, the 
nature of which is altogether different. For some, on hearing that 
liberty is promised in the gospel, a liberty which acknowledges no 
king and no magistrate among men, but looks to Christ alone, think 
that they can receive no benefit from their liberty so long as they 
see any power placed over them. Accordingly, they think that nothing 
will be safe until the whole world is changed into a new form, when 
there will be neither courts, nor laws nor magistrates, nor anything 
of the kind to interfere, as they suppose, with their liberty. But 
he who knows to distinguish between the body and the soul, between 
the present fleeting life and that which is future and eternal, will 
have no difficulty in understanding that the spiritual kingdom of 
Christ and civil government are things very widely separated. 
Seeing, therefore, it is a Jewish vanity to seek and include the 
kingdom of Christ under the elements of this world, let us, 
considering, as Scripture clearly teaches, that the blessings which 
we derive from Christ are spiritual, remember to confine the liberty 
which is promised and offered to us in him within its proper limits. 
For why is it that the very same apostle which bids us "stand fast 
in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not again 
entangled with the yoke of bondage," (Gal. 5: l,) in another passage 
forbids slaves to be solicitous about their state, (1 Cor. 7: 21,) 
unless it be that spiritual liberty is perfectly compatible with 
civil servitude? In this sense the following passages are to be 
understood: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond 
nor free, there is neither male nor female," (Gal. 3: 28.) Again:" 
There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, 
barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all and in all," 
(Col. 3: 11.) It is thus intimated that it matters not what your 
condition is among men, nor under what laws you live, since in them 
the kingdom of Christ does not at all consist. 
    2. Still the distinction does not go so far as to justify us in 
supposing that the whole scheme of civil government is matter of 
pollution, with which Christian men have nothing to do. Fanatics, 
indeed delighting in unbridled license, insist and vociferate that 
after we are dead by Christ to the elements of this world, and being 
translated into the kingdom of God sit among the celestial, it is 
unworthy of us, and far beneath our dignity to be occupied with 
those profane and impure cares which relate to matters alien from a 
Christian man. To what ends they say, are laws without courts and 
tribunals? But what has a Christian man to do with courts? Nay, if 
it is unlawful to kill, what have we to do with laws and courts? But 
as we lately taught that that kind of government is distinct from 
the spiritual and internal kingdom of Christ, so we ought to know 
that they are not adverse to each other. The former, in some 
measure, begins the heavenly kingdom in us, even now upon earth, and 
in this mortal and evanescent life commences immortal and 
incorruptible blessedness, while to the latter it is assigned, so 
long as we live among men, to foster and maintain the external 
worship of God, to defend sound doctrine and the condition of the 
Church, to adapt our conduct to human society, to form our manners 
to civil justice, to conciliate us to each other, to cherish common 
peace and tranquillity. All these I confess to be superfluous, if 
the kingdom of God, as it now exists within us, extinguishes the 
present life. But if it is the will of God that while we aspire to 
true piety we are pilgrims upon the earth, and if such pilgrimage 
stands in need of such aids, those who take them away from man rob 
him of his humanity. As to their allegation, that there ought to be 
such perfection in the Church of God that her guidance should 
suffice for law, they stupidly imagine her to be such as she never 
can he found in the community of men. For while the insolence of the 
wicked is so great, and their iniquity so stubborn, that it can 
scarcely be curbed by any severity of laws, what do we expect would 
be done by those whom force can scarcely repress from doing ill, 
were they to see perfect impunity for their wickedness? 
    3. But we shall have a fitter opportunity of speaking of the 
use of civil government. All we wish to be understood at present is, 
that it is perfect barbarism to think of exterminating it, its use 
among men being not less than that of bread and water, light and 
air, while its dignity is much more excellent. Its object is not 
merely, like those things, to enable men to breathe, eat, drink, and 
be warmed, (though it certainly includes all these, while it enables 
them to live together;) this, I say, is not its only object, but it 
is that no idolatry, no blasphemy against the name of God, no 
calumnies against his truth, nor other offences to religion, break 
out and be disseminated among the people; that the public quiet be 
not disturbed, that every man's property be kept secure, that men 
may carry on innocent commerce with each other, that honesty and 
modesty be cultivated; in short, that a public form of religion may 
exist among Christians, and humanity among men. Let no one be 
surprised that I now attribute the task of constituting religion 
aright to human polity, though I seem above to have placed it beyond 
the will of man, since I no more than formerly allow men at pleasure 
to enact laws concerning religion and the worship of God, when I 
approve of civil order which is directed to this end, viz., to 
prevent the true religion, which is contained in the law of God, 
from being with impunity openly violated and polluted by public 
blasphemy. But the reader, by the help of a perspicuous arrangement, 
will better understand what view is to be taken of the whole order 
of civil government, if we treat of each of its parts separately. 
Now these are three: The Magistrate, who is president and guardian 
of the laws; the Laws, according to which he governs; and the 
People, who are governed by the laws, and obey the magistrate. Let 
us consider then, first, What is the function of the magistrate? Is 
it a lawful calling approved by God? What is the nature of his duty? 
What the extent of his power? Secondly, What are the laws by which 
Christian polity is to be regulated?. And, lastly, What is the use 
of laws as regards the people? And, What obedience is due to the 
    4. With regard to the function of magistrates, the Lord has not 
only declared that he approves and is pleased with it, but, moreover 
has strongly recommended it to us by the very honourable titles 
which he has conferred upon it. To mention a few. When those who 
bear the office of magistrate are called gods, let no one suppose 
that there is little weight in that appellation. It is thereby 
intimated that they have a commission from God, that they are 
invested with divine authority and, in fact, represent the person of 
God, as whose substitutes they in a manner act. This is not a 
quibble of mine, but is the interpretation of Christ. "If 
Scriptures" says He, "called them gods to whom the word of God 
came." What is this but that the business was committed to them by 
Gods to serve him in their office, and (as Moses and Jehoshaphat 
said to the judges whom they were appointing over each of the cities 
of Judah) to exercise judgement, not for man, but for God? To the 
same effect Wisdom affirms, by the mouth of Solomon, "By me kings 
reigns and princes decree Justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, 
even all the judges of the earth," (Prov. 8: 15, 16.) For it is just 
as if it had been said, that it is not owing to human perverseness 
that supreme power on earth is lodged in kings and other governors, 
but by Divine Providence, and the holy decree of Him to whom it has 
seemed good so to govern the affairs of men, since he is present, 
and also presides in enacting laws and exercising judicial equity. 
This Paul also plainly teaches when he enumerates offices of rule 
among the gifts of God, which, distributed variously, according to 
the measure of grace, ought to be employed by the servants of Christ 
for the edification of the Church, (Rom. 12: 8.) In that place, 
however, he is properly speaking of the senate of grave men who were 
appointed in the primitive Church to take charge of public 
discipline. This office, in the Epistle to the Corinthians he calls 
"kuberneseis", governments, (1 Cor. 12: 28.) Still, as we see that 
civil power has the same end in view, there can be no doubt that he 
is recommending every kind of just government. He speaks much more 
clearly when he comes to a proper discussion of the subject. For he 
says that "there is no power but of God: the powers that be are 
ordained of God;" that rulers are the ministers of God, "not a 
terror to good works, but to the evil," (Rom. 13: 1, 3.) To this we 
may add the examples of saints, some of whom held the offices of 
kings, as David, Josiah, and Hezekiah; others of governors, as 
Joseph and Daniel; others of civil magistrates among a free people, 
as Moses, Joshua and the Judges. Their functions were expressly 
approved by the Lord. Wherefore no man can doubt that civil 
authority is in the sight of God, not only sacred and lawful, but 
the most sacred and by far the most honourable, of all stations in 
mortal life. 
    5. Those who are desirous to introduce anarchy object that, 
though anciently kings and judges presided over a rude people, yet 
that, in the present day that servile mode of governing does not at 
all accord with the perfection which Christ brought with his gospel. 
Herein they betray not only their ignorance, but their devilish 
pride, arrogating to themselves a perfection of which not even a 
hundredth part is seen in them. But be they what they may, the 
refutation is easy. For when David says, "Be wise now therefore O 
you 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. In like manner, when Isaiah predicts of the Church, 
"Kings shall be thy nursing-fathers, and their queens and nursing- 
mothers," (Isaiah 49: 23,) he does not bid them abdicate their 
authority; he rather gives them the honourable appellation of 
patrons of the pious worshipers of God; for the prophecy refers to 
the advent of Christ. I intentionally omit very many passages which 
occur throughout Scripture, and especially in the Psalms, in which 
the due authority of all rulers is asserted. The most celebrated 
passage of all is that in which Paul admonishing Timothy, that 
prayers are to be offered up in the public assembly for kings, 
subjoins the reason, "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in 
all godliness and honesty," (1 Tim. 2: 2.) In these words, he 
recommends the condition of the Church to their protection and 
    6. This consideration ought to be constantly present to the 
minds of magistrates since it is fitted to furnish a strong stimulus 
to the discharge of duty, and also afford singular consolation, 
smoothing the difficulties of their office, which are certainly 
numerous and weighty. What zeal for integrity, prudence, meekness, 
continence, and innocence ought to sway those who know that they 
have been appointed ministers of the divine justice! How will they 
dare to admit iniquity to their tribunal, when they are told that it 
is the throne of the living God? How will they venture to pronounce 
an unjust sentence with that mouth which they understand to be an 
ordained organ of divine truth? With what conscience will they 
subscribe impious decrees with that hand which they know has been 
appointed to write the acts of God? In a word, if they remember that 
they are the vicegerents of God, it behaves them to watch with all 
care, diligences and industry, that they may in themselves exhibit a 
kind of image of the Divine Providence, guardianship, goodness, 
benevolence, and justice. And let them constantly keep the 
additional thought in view, that if a curse is pronounced on him 
that "does the work of the Lord deceitfully" a much heavier curse 
must lie on him who deals deceitfully in a righteous calling. 
Therefore, when Moses and Jehoshaphat would urge their judges to the 
discharge of duty, they had nothing by which they could more 
powerfully stimulate their minds than the consideration to which we 
have already referred, - "Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for 
man, but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgement. Wherefore 
now let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take heed and do it: for 
there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons 
nor taking of gifts," (2 Chron. 19: 6, 7, compared with Deut. 1: 16, 
&c.) And in another passage it is said, "God standeth in the 
congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods," (Psalm 82: 
1; Isaiah 3: 14,) that they may be animated to duty when they hear 
that they are the ambassadors of God, to whom they must one day 
render an account of the province committed to them. This admonition 
ought justly to have the greatest effect upon them; for if they sin 
in any respect, not only is injury done to the men whom they 
wickedly torment, but they also insult God himself, whose sacred 
tribunals they pollute. On the other hand, they have an admirable 
source of comfort when they reflect that they are not engaged in 
profane occupations, unbefitting a servant of God, but in a most 
sacred office, inasmuch as they are the ambassadors of God. 
    7. In regard to those who are not debarred by all these 
passages of Scripture from presuming to inveigh against this sacred 
ministry, as if it were a thing abhorrent from religion and 
Christian piety, what else do they than assail God himself, who 
cannot but be insulted when his servants are disgraced? These men 
not only speak evil of dignities, but would not even have God to 
reign over them, (1 Sam. 7: 7.) For if this was truly said of the 
people of Israel, when they declined the authority of Samuel, how 
can it be less truly said in the present day of those who allow 
themselves to break loose against all the authority established by 
God? But it seems that when our Lord said to his disciples, "The 
kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that 
exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall 
not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the 
younger; and he that is chief, as he that does serve," (Luke 22: 25, 
26;) he by these words prohibited all Christians from becoming kings 
or governors. Dexterous expounders! A dispute had arisen among the 
disciples as to which of them should be greatest. To suppress this 
vain ambition, our Lord taught them that their ministry was not like 
the power of earthly sovereigns, among whom one greatly surpasses 
another. What, I ask, is there in this comparison disparaging to 
royal dignity? nay, what does it prove at all unless that the royal 
office is not the apostolic ministry? Besides though among 
magisterial offices themselves there are different forms, there is 
no difference in this respect, that they are all to be received by 
us as ordinances of God. For Paul includes all together when he says 
that "there is no power but of God," and that which was by no means 
the most pleasing of all, was honoured with the highest testimonial, 
I mean the power of one. This as carrying with it the public 
servitude of all, (except the one to whose despotic will all is 
subject,) was anciently disrelished by heroic and more excellent 
matures. But Scripture, to obviate these unjust judgements, affirms 
expressly that it is by divine wisdom that "kings reign," and gives 
special command "to honour the king," (1 Peter 2: 17.) 
    8. And certainly it were a very idle occupation for private men 
to discuss what would be the best form of polity in the place where 
they live, seeing these deliberations cannot have any influence in 
determining any public matter. Then the thing itself could not be 
defined absolutely without rashness, since the nature of the 
discussion depends on circumstances. And if you compare the 
different states with each other, without regard to circumstances, 
it is not easy to determine which of these has the advantage in 
point of utility; so equal are the terms on which they meet. 
Monarchy is prone to tyranny. In an aristocracy, again, the tendency 
is not less to the faction of a few, while in popular ascendancy 
there is the strongest tendency to sedition. When these three forms 
of government, of which philosophers treat, are considered in 
themselves, I, for my part, am far from denying that the form which 
greatly surpasses the others is aristocracy, either pure or modified 
by popular government, not indeed in itself, but because it very 
rarely happens that kings so rule themselves as never to dissent 
from what is just and right, or are possessed of so much acuteness 
and prudence as always to see correctly. Owing, therefore, to the 
vices or defects of men, it is safer and more tolerable when several 
bear rule, that they may thus mutually assist, instruct, and 
admonish each other, and should any one be disposed to go too far, 
the others are censors and masters to curb his excess. This has 
already been proved by experience, and confirmed also by the 
authority of the Lord himself, when he established an aristocracy 
bordering on popular government among the Israelites, keeping them 
under that as the best form, until he exhibited an image of the 
Messiah in David. And as I willingly admit that there is no kind of 
government happier than where liberty is framed with becoming 
moderation, and duly constituted so as to be durable, so I deem 
those very happy who are permitted to enjoy that form, and I admit 
that they do nothing at variance with their duty when they 
strenuously and constantly labour to preserve and maintain it. Nay, 
even magistrates ought to do their utmost to prevent the liberty, of 
which they have been appointed guardians from being impaired, far 
less violated. If in this they are sluggish or little careful, they 
are perfidious traitors to their office and their country. But 
should those to whom the Lord has assigned one form of government, 
take it upon them anxiously to long for a change, the wish would not 
only be foolish and superfluous, but very pernicious. If you fix 
your eyes not on one state merely, but look around the world, or at 
least direct your view to regions widely separated from each other, 
you will perceive that divine Providence has not, without good 
cause, arranged that different countries should be governed by 
different forms of polity. For as only elements of unequal 
temperature adhere together so in different regions a similar 
inequality in the form of government is best. All this, however, is 
said unnecessarily to those to whom the will of God is a sufficient 
reason. For if it has pleased him to appoint kings over kingdoms and 
senates or burgomasters over free states, whatever be the form which 
he has appointed in the places in which we live, our duty is to obey 
and submit. 
    9. 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 
judgement 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 
judgement; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great: ye 
shall not be afraid of the face of man, for the judgement 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 has 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 evildoers 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 "judgement and righteousness," (Jer. 21: 12; 22: 3.) It 
is righteousness (justice) to take charge at the innocent, to defend 
and avenge them, and set them free: it is judgement to withstand the 
audacity of the wicked, to repress their violence and punish their 
    10. But here a difficulty and, as it seems, a perplexing 
question arises. If all Christians are forbidden to kill, and the 
prophet predicts concerning the holy mountain of the Lords that is, 
the Church, "They shall not hurt or destroy," how can magistrates be 
at once pious and yet shedders at blood? But if we understand that 
the magistrate, in inflicting punishment, acts not of himself, but 
executes the very judgements of God, we shall be disencumbered of 
every doubt. The law of the Lord forbids to kill; but, that murder 
may not go unpunished, the Lawgiver himself puts the sword into the 
hands of his ministers, that they may employ it against all 
murderers. It belongs not to the pious to afflict and hurt, but to 
avenge the afflictions of the pious, at the command of God, is 
neither to afflict nor hurt. I wish it could always be present to 
our mind, that nothing is done here by the rashness of man, but all 
in obedience to the authority of God. When it is the guide, we never 
stray from the right path, unless, indeed, divine justice is to be 
placed under restraint, and not allowed to take punishment on 
crimes. But if we dare not give the law to it, why should we bring a 
charge against its ministers? "He beareth not the sword in vain," 
says Paul, "for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute 
wrath on him that does evil," (Rom. 13: 4.) Wherefore, if princes 
and other rulers know that nothing will be more acceptable to God 
than their obedience, let them give themselves to this service if 
they are desirous, to approve their piety, justice, and integrity to 
God. This, was the feeling of Moses when, recognising himself as 
destined to deliver his people by the power of the Lord, he laid 
violent hands on the Egyptian, and afterwards took vengeance on the 
people for sacrilege, by slaying three thousand of them in one day. 
This was the feeling of David also, when, towards the end of his 
life, he ordered his son Solomon to put Joab and Shimei to death. 
Hence, also, in an enumeration of the virtues of a king, one is to 
cut off the wicked from the earth, and banish all workers of 
iniquity from the city of God. To the same effect is the praise 
which is bestowed on Solomon, "Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest 
wickedness." How is it that the meek and gentle temper of Moses 
becomes so exasperated, that, besmeared and reeking with the blood 
of his brethren, he runs through the camp making new slaughter? How 
is it that David, who, during his whole life, showed so much 
mildness, almost at his last breath leaves with his son the bloody 
testament, not to allow the grey hairs of Joab and Shimei to go to 
the grave in peace? Both, by their sternness, sanctified the hands 
which they would have polluted by showing mercy, inasmuch as they 
executed the vengeance committed to them by God. Solomon says, "It 
is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness; for the throne is 
established by righteousness." Again, "A king that sitteth in the 
throne of judgement, scattereth away all evil with his eyes." Again, 
"A wise king scattereth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over 
them." Again, "Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall 
come forth a vessel for the finer. Take away the wicked from before 
the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness." 
Again "He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the 
just, even they both are abomination to the Lord." Again, "An evil 
man seeketh only rebellion, therefore an evil messenger shall be 
sent against him." Again, "He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art 
righteous; him shall the people curse, nations shall abhor him." 
Now, if it is true justice in them to pursue the guilty and impious 
with drawn sword, to sheath the sword, and keep their hands pure 
from blood, while nefarious men wade through murder and slaughter, 
so far from redounding to the praise of their goodness and justice, 
would be to incur the guilt of the greatest impiety; provided, 
always, they eschew reckless and cruel asperity, and that tribunal 
which may be justly termed a rock on which the accused must founder. 
For I am not one of those who would either favour an unseasonable 
severity, or think that any tribunal could be accounted just that is 
not presided over by mercy, that best and surest counsellor of 
kings, and, as Solomon declares, "upholder of the throne," (Prov. 
20: 28.) This, as was truly said by one of old, should be the 
primary endowment of princes. The magistrate must guard against both 
extremes; he must neither, by excessive severity, rather wound than 
cure, nor by a superstitious affectation of clemency, fall into the 
most cruel inhumanity, by giving way to soft and dissolute 
indulgence to the destruction of many. It was well said by one under 
the empire of Nerva, It is indeed a bad thing to live under a prince 
with whom nothing is lawful, but a much worse to live under one with 
whom all things are lawful. 
    11. As it is sometimes necessary for kings and states to take 
up arms in order to execute public vengeance, the reason assigned 
furnishes us with the means of estimating how far the wars which are 
thus undertaken are lawful. For if power has been given them to 
maintain the tranquillity of their subjects, repress the seditious 
movements of the turbulent, assist those who are violently 
oppressed, and animadvert on crimes, can they rise it more 
opportunely than in repressing the fury of him who disturbs both the 
ease of individuals and the common tranquillity of all; who excites 
seditious tumult, and perpetrates acts of violent oppression and 
gross wrongs? If it becomes them to be the guardians and maintainers 
of the laws, they must repress the attempts of all alike by whose 
criminal conduct the discipline of the laws is impaired. Nay, if 
they justly punish those robbers whose injuries have been inflicted 
only on a few, will they allow the whole country to be robbed and 
devastated with impunity? Since it makes no difference whether it is 
by a king or by the lowest of the people that a hostile and 
devastating inroad is made into a district over which they have no 
authority, all alike are to be regarded and punished as robbers. 
Natural equity and duty, therefore, demand that princes be armed not 
only to repress private crimes by judicial inflictions, but to 
defend the subjects committed to their guardianship whenever they 
are hostilely assailed. Such even the Holy Spirit, in many passages 
of Scripture, declares to be lawful. 
    12. But if it is objected that in the New Testament there is no 
passage or example teaching that war is lawful for Christians, I 
answer, first, that the reason for carrying on war, which anciently 
existed, still exists in the present day, and that, on the other 
hand, there is no ground for debarring, magistrates from the defence 
of those under them; And, secondly, that in the Apostolical writings 
we are not to look for a distinct exposition of those matters, their 
object being not to form a civil polity but to establish the 
spiritual kingdom of Christ; lastly, that there also it is 
indicated, in passing, that our Saviour, by his advent, made no 
change in this respect. For (to use the words of Augustine) "if 
Christian discipline condemned all wars, when the soldiers asked 
counsel as to the way of salvation, they would have been told to 
cast away their arms, and withdraw altogether from military service. 
Whereas it was said, (Luke 3: 14,) Concuss no one, do injury to no 
one, be contented with your pay. Those who he orders to be contented 
with their pay he certainly does not forbid to serve," (August. Ep. 
5 ad Marcell.) But all magistrates must here be particularly 
cautious not to give way, in the slightest degree, to their 
passions. Or rather, whether punishments are to be inflicted, they 
must not be borne headlong by anger, nor hurried away by hatred, nor 
burn with implacable severity; they must, as Augustine says, (De 
Civil. Dei, Lib. 5 cap. 24,) "even pity a common nature in him in 
whom they punish an individual fault;" or whether they have to take 
up arms against an enemy, that is, an armed robber, they must not 
readily catch at the opportunity, nay, they must not take it when 
offered, unless compelled by the strongest necessity. For if we are 
to do far more than that heathen demanded who wished war to appear 
as desired peace, assuredly all other means must be tried before 
having recourse to arms. In fine, in both cases, they must not allow 
themselves to be carried away by any private feeling, but be guided 
solely by regard for the public. Acting otherwise, they wickedly 
abuse their power which was given them, not for their own advantage, 
but for the good and service of others. On this right of war depends 
the right of garrisons, leagues, and other civil munitions. By 
garrisons, I mean those which are stationed in states for defence of 
the frontiers; by leagues, the alliances which are made by 
neighbouring princess on the ground that if any disturbance arise 
within their territories, they will mutually assist each other, and 
combine their forces to repel the common enemies of the human race; 
under civil munitions I include every thing pertaining to the 
military art. 
    13. Lastly, we think it proper to add, that taxes and imposts 
are the legitimate revenues of princes, which they are chiefly to 
employ in sustaining the public burdens of their office. Theses 
however, they may use for the maintenance of their domestic state, 
which is in a manner combined with the dignity of the authority 
which they exercise. Thus we see that David, Hezekiah, Josiah, 
Jehoshaphat, and other holy kings, Joseph also and Daniel, in 
proportion to the office which they sustained, without offending 
piety, expended liberally of the public funds; and we read in 
Ezekiel, that a very large extent of territory was assigned to 
kings, (Ezek. 48: 21.) In that passage, indeed, he is depicting the 
spiritual kingdom of Christ, but still he borrows his representation 
from lawful dominion among men. Princes, however, must remember, in 
their turn, that their revenues are not so much private chests as 
treasuries of the whole people, (this Paul testifies, Rom. 13: 6,) 
which they cannot, without manifest injustice, squander or 
dilapidate; or rather, that they are almost the blood of the people, 
which it were the harshest inhumanity not to spare. They should also 
consider that their levies and contributions, and other kinds of 
taxes, are merely subsidies of the public necessity, and that it is 
tyrannical rapacity to harass the poor people with them without 
cause. These things do not stimulate princes to profusion and 
luxurious expenditure, (there is certainly no need to inflame the 
passions, when they are already, of their own accord, inflamed more 
than enough,) but seeing it is of the greatest consequence that, 
whatever they venture to do, they should do with a pure conscience, 
it is necessary to teach them how far they can lawfully go, lest, by 
impious confidence, they incur the divine displeasure. Nor is this 
doctrine superfluous to private individuals, that they may not 
rashly and petulantly stigmatise the expenditure of princes, though 
it should exceed the ordinary limits. 
    14. In states, the thing next in importance to the magistrates 
is laws, the strongest sinews of government, or, as Cicero calls 
them after Plato, the soul, without which, the office of the 
magistrate cannot exist; just as, on the other hand, laws have no 
vigour without the magistrate. Hence nothing could be said more 
truly than that the law is a dumb magistrate, the magistrate a 
living law. As I have undertaken to describe the laws by which 
Christian polity is to be governed, there is no reason to expect 
from me a long discussion on the best kind of laws. The subject is 
of vast extent, and belongs not to this place. I will only briefly 
observe, in passing, what the laws are which may be piously used 
with reference to God, and duly administered among men. This I would 
rather have passed in silence, were I not aware that many dangerous 
errors are here committed. For there are some who deny that any 
commonwealth is rightly framed which neglects the law of Moses, and 
is ruled by the common law of nations. How perilous and seditious 
these views are, let others see: for me it is enough to demonstrate 
hat they are stupid and false. We must attend to the well-known 
division which distributes the whole law of God, as promulgated by 
Moses, into the moral, the ceremonial, and the judicial law, and we 
must attend to each of these parts, in order to understand how far 
they do, or do not, pertain to us. Meanwhile, let no one be moved by 
the thought that the judicial and ceremonial laws relate to morals. 
For the ancients who adopted this division, though they were not 
unaware that the two latter classes had to do with morals, did not 
give them the name of moral, because they might be changed and 
abrogated without affecting morals. They give this name specially to 
the first class, without which, true holiness of life and an 
immutable rule of conduct cannot exist. 
    15. The moral law, then, (to begin with it,) being contained 
under two heads, the one of which simply enjoins us to worship God 
with pure faith and piety, the other to embrace men with sincere 
affection, is the true and eternal rule of righteousness prescribed 
to the men of all nations and of all times, who would frame their 
life agreeably to the will of God. For his eternal and immutable 
will is, that we are all to worship him, and mutually love one 
another. The ceremonial law of the Jews was a tutelage by which the 
Lord was pleased to exercise, as it were, the childhood of that 
people, until the fulness of the time should come when he was fully 
to manifest his wisdom to the world, and exhibit the reality of 
those things which were then adumbrated by figures, (Gal. 3: 24; 4: 
4.) The judicial law, given them as a kind of polity, delivered 
certain forms of equity and justice, by which they might live 
together innocently and quietly. And as that exercise in ceremonies 
properly pertained to the doctrine of piety, inasmuch as it kept the 
Jewish Church in the worship and religion of God, yet was still 
distinguishable from piety itself, so the judicial form, though it 
looked only to the best method of preserving that charity which is 
enjoined by the eternal law of God, was still something distinct 
from the precept of love itself. Therefore, as ceremonies might be 
abrogated without at all interfering with piety, so also, when these 
judicial arrangements are removed, the duties and precepts of 
charity can still remain perpetual. But if it is true that each 
nation has been left at liberty to enact the laws which it judges to 
be beneficial, still these are always to be tested by the rule of 
charity, so that while they vary in form, they must proceed on the 
same principle. Those barbarous and savage laws, for instance, which 
conferred honour on thieves, allowed the promiscuous intercourse of 
the sexes, and other things even fouler and more absurd, I do not 
think entitled to be considered as laws, since they are not only 
altogether abhorrent to justice, but to humanity and civilised life. 
    16. What I have said will become plain if we attend, as we 
ought, to two things connected with all laws, viz., the enactment of 
the law, and the equity on which the enactment is founded and rests. 
Equity, as it is natural, cannot but be the same in all, and 
therefore ought to be proposed by all laws, according to the nature 
of the thing enacted. As constitutions have some circumstances on 
which they partly depend, there is nothing to prevent their 
diversity, provided they all alike aim at equity as their end. Now, 
as it is evident that the law of God which we call moral, is nothing 
else than the testimony of natural law, and of that conscience which 
God has engraven on the minds of men, the whole of this equity of 
which we now speak is prescribed in it. Hence it alone ought to be 
the aim, the rule, and the end of all laws. wherever laws are formed 
after this rule, directed to this aim, and restricted to this end, 
there is no reason why they should be disapproved by us, however 
much they may differ from the Jewish law, or from each other, 
(August. de Civil. Dei, Lib. 19 c. 17.) The law of God forbids to 
steal. The punishment appointed for theft in the civil polity of the 
Jews may be seen in Exodus 22. Very ancient laws of other nations 
punished theft by exacting the double of what was stolen, while 
subsequent laws made a distinction between theft manifest and not 
manifest. Other laws went the length of punishing with exile, or 
with branding, while others made the punishment capital. Among the 
Jews, the punishment of the false witness was to "do unto him as he 
had thought to have done with his brothers" (Deut. 19: 19.) In some 
countries, the punishment is infamy, in others, hanging; in others, 
crucifixion. All laws alike avenge murder with blood, but the kinds 
of death are different. In some countries, adultery was punished 
more severely, in others more leniently. Yet we see that amid this 
diversity they all tend to the same end. For they all with one mouth 
declare against those crimes which are condemned by the eternal law 
at God, viz., murder, theft, adultery, and false witness; though 
they agree not as to the mode of punishment. This is not necessary, 
nor even expedient. There may be a country which, if murder were not 
visited with fearful punishments, would instantly become a prey to 
robbery and slaughter. There may be an age requiring that the 
severity of punishments should be increased. If the state is in a 
troubled condition, those things from which disturbances usually 
arise must be corrected by new edicts. In time of war, civilisation 
would disappear amid the noise of arms, were not men overawed by an 
unwonted severity of punishment. In sterility, in pestilence, were 
not stricter discipline employed, all things would grow worse. One 
nation might be more prone to a particular vice, were it not most 
severely repressed. How malignant were it, and invidious of the 
public good, to be offended at this diversity, which is admirably 
adapted to retain the observance of the divine law. The allegation, 
that insult is offered to the law of God enacted by Moses, where it 
is abrogated and other new laws are preferred to it, is most absurd. 
Others are not preferred when they are more approved, not 
absolutely, but from regard to time and place, and the condition of 
the people, or when those things are abrogated which were never 
enacted for us. The Lord did not deliver it by the hand of Moses to 
be promulgated in all countries, and to be everywhere enforced; but 
having taken the Jewish nation under his special care, patronage, 
and guardianship, he was pleased to be specially its legislator, and 
as became a wise legislator, he had special regard to it in enacting 
    17. It now remains to see, as was proposed in the last place, 
what use the common society of Christians derive from laws, judicial 
proceedings, and magistrates. With this is connected another 
question, viz., What deference ought private individuals to pay to 
magistrates, and how far ought obedience to proceed? To very many it 
seems that among Christians the office of magistrate is superfluous, 
because they cannot piously implore his aid, inasmuch as they are 
forbidden to take revenge, cite before a judge, or go to law. But 
when Paul, on the contrary, clearly declares that he is the minister 
of God to us for good, (Rom. 13: 4,) we thereby understand that he 
was so ordained of God, that, being defended by his hand and aid 
against the dishonesty and injustice of wicked men, we may live 
quiet and secure. But if he would have been appointed over us in 
vain, unless we were to use his aid, it is plain that it cannot be 
wrong to appeal to it and implore it. Here, indeed, I have to do 
with two classes of men. For there are very many who boil with such 
a rage for litigation, that they never can be quiet with themselves 
unless they are fighting with others. Law-suits they prosecute with 
the bitterness of deadly hatred, and with an insane eagerness to 
hurt and revenge, and they persist in them with implacable 
obstinacy, even to the ruin of their adversary. Meanwhile, that they 
may be thought to do nothing but what is legal, they use this 
pretext of judicial proceedings as a defence of their perverse 
conduct. But if it is lawful for brother to litigate with brother, 
it does not follow that it is lawful to hate him, and obstinately 
pursue him with a furious desire to do him harm. 
    18. Let such persons then understand that judicial proceedings 
are lawful to him who makes a right use of them; and the right use, 
both for the pursuer and for the defender, is for the latter to sist 
himself on the day appointed, and, without bitterness, urge what he 
can in his defence, but only with the desire of justly maintaining 
his right; and for the pursuer, when undeservedly attacked in his 
life or fortunes, to throw himself upon the protection of the 
magistrate, state his complaint, and demand what is just and good; 
while, far from any wish to hurt or take vengeance - far from 
bitterness and hatred - far from the Armour of strife, he is rather 
disposed to yield and suffer somewhat than to cherish hostile 
feelings towards his opponent. On the contrary when minds are filled 
with malevolence, corrupted by envy, burning with anger, breathing 
revenge, or, in fine, so inflamed by the heat of the contest, that 
they, in some measure, lay aside charity, the whole pleading, even 
of the justest cause, cannot but be impious. For it ought to be an 
axiom among all Christians, that no plea, however equitable, can be 
rightly conducted by any one who does not feel as kindly towards his 
opponent as if the matter in dispute were amicably transacted and 
arranged. Some one, perhaps, may here break in and say, that such 
moderation in judicial proceedings is so far from being seen, that 
an instance of it would be a kind of prodigy. I confess that in 
these times it is rare to meet with an example of an honest 
litigant; but the thing itself, untainted by the accession of evil, 
ceases not to be good and pure. When we hear that the assistance of 
the magistrate is a sacred gift from God, we ought the more 
carefully to beware of polluting it by our fault. 
    19. Let those who distinctly condemn all judicial discussion 
know, that they repudiate the holy ordinance of God, and one of 
those gifts which to the pure are pure, unless, indeed, they would 
charge Paul with a crime, because he repelled the calumnies of his 
accusers, exposing their craft and wickedness, and, at the tribunal, 
claimed for himself the privilege of a Roman citizen, appealing, 
when necessary, from the governor to Caesar's judgement-seat. There 
is nothing contrary to this in the prohibition, which binds all 
Christians to refrain from revenge, a feeling which we drive far 
away from all Christian tribunals. For whether the action be of a 
civil nature, he only takes the right course who, with innocuous 
simplicity, commits his cause to the judge as the public protector, 
without any thought of returning evil for evil, (which is, the 
feeling of revenge;) or whether the action is of a graver nature, 
directed against a capital offence, the accuser required is not one 
who comes into court, carried away by some feeling of revenge or 
resentment from some private injury, but one whose only object is to 
prevent the attempts of some bad man to injure the commonweal. But 
if you take away the vindictive mind, you offend in no respect 
against that command which forbids Christians to indulge revenge. 
But they are not only forbidden to thirst for revenge, they are also 
enjoined to wait for the hand of the Lord, who promises that he will 
be the avenger of the oppressed and afflicted. But those who call 
upon the magistrate to give assistance to themselves or others, 
anticipate the vengeance of the heavenly Judge. By no means, for we 
are to consider that the vengeance of the magistrate is the 
vengeance not of man, but of God, which, as Paul says, he exercises 
by the ministry of man for our good, (Rom. 13: 4.) 
    20. No more are we at variance with the words of Christ, who 
forbids us to resist evil, and adds, "Whosoever shall smite thee on 
thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue 
thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak 
also" (Matth. 5: 39, 40.) He would have the minds of his followers 
to be so abhorrent to everything like retaliation, that they would 
sooner allow the injury to be doubled than desire to repay it. From 
this patience we do not dissuade them. For verily Christians were to 
be a class of men born to endure affronts and injuries, and be 
exposed to the iniquity, imposture, and derision of abandoned men, 
and not only so, but were to be tolerant of all these evils; that 
is, so composed in the whole frame of their minds, that, on 
receiving one offence, they were to prepare themselves for another, 
promising themselves nothing during the whole of life but the 
endurance of a perpetual cross. Meanwhile, they must do good to 
those who injure them, and pray for those who curse them, and (this 
is their only victory) strive to overcome evil with good, (Rom. 12: 
20, 21.) Thus affected, they will not seek eye for eye, and tooth 
for tooth, (as the Pharisees taught their disciples to long for 
vengeance,) but (as we are instructed by Christ) they will allow 
their body to be mutilated, and their goods to be maliciously taken 
from them, prepared to remit and spontaneously pardon those injuries 
the moment they have been inflicted. This equity and moderation, 
however, will not prevent them, with entire friendship for their 
enemies, from using the aid of the magistrate for the preservation 
of their goods, or, from zeal for the public interest, to call for 
the punishment of the wicked and pestilential man, whom they know 
nothing will reform but death. All these precepts are truly 
expounded by Augustine, as tending to prepare the just and pious man 
patiently to sustain the malice of those whom he desires to become 
good, that he may thus increase the number of the good, not add 
himself to the number of the bad by imitating their wickedness. 
Moreover, it pertains more to the preparation of the heart which is 
within, than to the work which is done openly, that patience and 
good-will may he retained within the secret of the heart, and that 
may be done openly which we see may do good to those to whom we 
ought to wish well, (August. Ep. 5: ad Marcell.) 
    21. The usual objection, that law-suits are universally 
condemned by Paul, (1 Cor. 6: 6,) is false. It may easily be 
understood front his words, that a rage for litigation prevailed in 
the church of Corinth to such a degree, that they exposed the gospel 
of Christ, and the whole religion which they professed, to the 
calumnies and cavils of the ungodly. Paul rebukes them, first for 
traducing the gospel to unbelievers by the intemperance of their 
dissensions; and, secondly, for so striving with each other while 
they were brethren. For so far were they from bearing injury from 
another, that they greedily coveted each other's effects, and 
voluntarily provoked and injured them. He inveighs, therefore, 
against that madness for litigation, and not absolutely against all 
kinds of disputes. He declares it to be altogether a vice or 
infirmity, that they do not submit to the loss of their effects, 
rather than strive, even to contention, in preserving them; in other 
words, seeing they were so easily moved by every kind of loss, and 
on every occasion, however slight, ran off to the forum and to 
law-suits, he says, that in this way they showed that they were of 
too irritable a temper, and not prepared for patience. Christians 
should always feel disposed rather to give up part of their right 
than to go into court, out of which they can scarcely come without a 
troubled mind, a mind inflamed with hatred of their brother. But 
when one sees that his property, the want of which he would 
grievously feel, he is able, without any loss of charity, to defend, 
if he should do so, he offends in no respect against that passage of 
Paul. In short, as we said at first, every man's best adviser is 
charity. Every thing in which we engage without charity, and all the 
disputes which carry us beyond it, are unquestionably unjust and 
    22. The first duty of subjects towards their rulers, is to 
entertain the most honourable views of their office, recognising it 
as a delegated jurisdiction from God, and on that account receiving 
and reverencing them as the ministers and ambassadors of God. For 
you will find some who show themselves very obedient to magistrates, 
and would be unwilling that there should be no magistrates to obey, 
because they know this is expedient for the public good, and yet the 
opinion which those persons have of magistrates is that they are a 
kind of necessary evils. But Peter requires something more of us 
when he says, "Honour the king," (1 Pet. 2: 17;) and Solomon, when 
he says, "My son, fear thou the Lord and the king," (Prov. 24: 21.) 
For, under the term honour, the former includes a sincere and candid 
esteem, and the latter, by joining the king with God, shows that he 
is invested with a kind of sacred veneration and dignity. We have 
also the remarkable injunction of Paul, "Be subject not only for 
wrath, but also for conscience sake," (Rom. 13: 5.) By this he 
means, that subjects, in submitting to princes and governors, are 
not to be influenced merely by fear, (just as those submit to an 
armed enemy who see vengeance ready to be executed if they resist,) 
but because the obedience which they yield is rendered to God 
himself, inasmuch as their power is from God. I speak not of the men 
as if the mask of dignity could cloak folly, or cowardice, or 
cruelty, or wicked and flagitous manners, and thus acquire for vice 
the praise of virtue; but I say that the station itself is deserving 
of honour and reverence, and that those who rule should, in respect 
of their office, be held by us in esteem and veneration. 
    23. From this, a second consequence is, that we must with ready 
minds prove our obedience to them, whether in complying with edicts, 
or in paying tribute, or in undertaking public offices and burdens 
which relate to the common defence, or in executing any other 
orders. "Let every soul", says Paul, "be subject unto the higher 
powers." "Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the 
ordinance of God," (Rom. 13: 1, 2.) Writing to Titus, he says, "Put 
them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey 
magistrates, to be ready to every good work," (Tit. 3: 1.) Peter 
also says, "Submit yourselves to every human creature," (or rather, 
as I understand it, "ordinance of man,") "for the Lord's sake: 
whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto 
them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for 
the praise of them that do well," (1 Pet. 2: 13.) Moreover, to 
testify that they do not feign subjection, but are sincerely and 
cordially subject, Paul adds, that they are to commend the safety 
and prosperity of those under whom they live to God. "I exhort, 
therefore," says he, "that, first of all, supplications, prayers, 
intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, 
and for all that are in authority: that we may lead a quiet and 
peaceable life in all godliness and honesty," (1 Tim. 2: 1, 2.) Let 
no man here deceive himself, since we cannot resist the magistrate 
without resisting God. For, although an unarmed magistrate may seem 
to be despised with impunity, yet God is armed, and will signally 
avenge this contempt. Under this obedience, I comprehend the 
restraint which private men ought to impose on themselves in public, 
not interfering with public business, or rashly encroaching on the 
province of the magistrate, or attempting any thing at all of a 
public nature. If it is proper that any thing in a public ordinance 
should be corrected, let them not act tumultuously, or put their 
hands to a work where they ought to feel that their hands are tied, 
but let them leave it to the cognisance of the magistrate, whose 
hand alone here is free. My meaning is, let them not dare to do it 
without being ordered. For when the command of the magistrate is 
given, they too are invested with public authority. For as, 
according to the common saying, the eyes and ears of the prince are 
his counsellors, so one may not improperly say that those who, by 
his command, have the charge of managing affairs, are his hands. 
    24. But as we have hitherto described the magistrate who truly 
is what he is called, viz., the father of his country, and (as the 
Poet speaks) the pastor of the people, the guardian of peace, the 
president of justice, the vindicator of innocence, he is justly to 
be deemed a madman who disapproves of such authority. And since in 
almost all ages we see that some princes, careless about all their 
duties on which they ought to have been intent, live, without 
solicitude, in luxurious sloth, others, bent on their own interests 
venally prostitute all rights, privileges, judgements, and 
enactments; others pillage poor people of their money, and 
afterwards squander it in insane largesses; others act as mere 
robbers, pillaging houses, violating matrons and slaying the 
innocent; many cannot be persuaded to recognise such persons for 
princes, whose command, as far as lawful, they are bound to obey. 
For while in this unworthy conduct, and among atrocities so alien, 
not only from the duty of the magistrate, but also of the man, they 
behold no appearance of the image of God, which ought to be 
conspicuous in the magistrates while they see not a vestige of that 
minister of God, who was appointed to be a praise to the good and a 
terror to the bad, they cannot recognise the ruler whose dignity and 
authority Scripture recommends to us. And, undoubtedly, the natural 
feeling of the human mind has always been not less to assail tyrants 
with hatred and execrations than to look up to just kings with love 
and veneration. 
    25. But it we have respect to the word of God, it will lead us 
farther, and make us subject not only to the authority of those 
princes who honestly and faithfully perform their duty toward us, 
but all princes, by whatever means they have so become, although 
there is nothing they less perform than the duty of princes. For 
though the Lord declares that ruler to maintain our safety is the 
highest gift of his beneficence, and prescribes to rulers themselves 
their proper sphere, he at the same time declares, that of whatever 
description they may be, they derive their power from none but him. 
Those, indeed, who rule for the public good, are true examples and 
specimens of big beneficence, while those who domineer unjustly and 
tyrannically are raised up by him to punish the people for their 
iniquity. Still all alike possess that sacred majesty with which he 
has invested lawful power. I will not proceed further without 
subjoining some distinct passages to this effect. We need not labour 
to prove that an impious king is a mark of the Lord's anger, since I 
presume no one will deny it, and that this is not less true of a 
king than of a robber who plunders your goods, an adulterer who 
defiles your bed, and an assassin who aims at your life, since all 
such calamities are classed by Scripture among the curses of God. 
But let us insist at greater length in proving what does not so 
easily fall in with the views of men, that even an individual of the 
worst character, one most unworthy of all honour, if invested with 
public authority, receives that illustrious divine power which the 
Lord has by his word devolved on the ministers of his justice and 
judgement, and that, accordingly, in so far as public obedience is 
concerned, he is to be held in the same honour and reverence as the 
best of kings. 
    26. And, first, I would have the reader carefully to attend to 
that Divine Providence which, not without cause, is so often set 
before us in Scripture, and that special act of distributing 
kingdoms, and setting up as kings whomsoever he pleases. In Daniel 
it is said, "He changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth 
kings, and setteth up kings," (Dan. 2: 21, 37.) Again, "That the 
living may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and 
giveth it to whomsoever he will," (Dan. 4: 17, 20.) Similar 
sentiments occur throughout Scripture, but they abound particularly 
in the prophetical books. What kind of king Nebuchadnezzar, he who 
stormed Jerusalem, was, is well known. He was an active invader and 
devastator of other countries. Yet the Lord declares in Ezekiel that 
he had given him the land of Egypt as his hire for the devastation 
which he had committed. Daniel also said to him, "Thou, O king, art 
a king of kings: for the God of heaven has given thee a kingdom, 
power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men 
dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven has he 
given into thine hand, and has made thee ruler over them all," (Dan. 
2: 37, 38.) Again, he says to his son Belshazzar, "The most high God 
gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, 
and honour: and for the majesty that he gave him, all people, 
nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him," (Dan. 5: 
18, 19.) When we hear that the king was appointed by God, let us, at 
the same time, call to mind those heavenly edicts as to honouring 
and fearing the king, and we shall have no doubt that we are to view 
the most iniquitous tyrant as occupying the place with which the 
Lord has honoured him. When Samuel declared to the people of Israel 
what they would suffer from their kings, he said, "This will be the 
manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your 
sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his 
horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will 
appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and 
will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to 
make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he 
will take your daughters to be confectioneries, and to be cooks, and 
to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and 
your olive yards, even the best of them, and give them to his 
servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your 
vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he 
will take your men-servants, and your maid-servants, and your 
goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He 
will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants," (1 
Sam. 8: 11-17.) Certainly these things could not be done legally by 
kings, whom the law trained most admirably to all kinds of 
restraint; but it was called justice in regard to the people, 
because they were bound to obey, and could not lawfully resist: as 
if Samuel had said, To such a degree will kings indulge in tyranny, 
which it will not be for you to restrain. The only thing remaining 
for you will be to receive their commands, and be obedient to their 
    27. But the most remarkable and memorable passage is in 
Jeremiah. Though it is rather long, I am not indisposed to quote it, 
because it most clearly settles this whole question. "I have made 
the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by my 
great power, and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom 
it seemed meet unto me. And now have I given all these lands into 
the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon my servant; and the 
beasts of the field have I given him also to serve him. And all 
nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son's son, until the 
very time of his land come: and then many nations and great kings 
shall serve themselves of him. And it shall come to pass, that the 
nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the 
king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of 
the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the Lord, with 
the sword, and with famine, and with the pestilence, until I have 
consumed them by his hand," (Jer. 27: 5-8.) Therefore "bring your 
necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his 
people, and live," (v. 12.) We see how great obedience the Lord was 
pleased to demand for this dire and ferocious tyrant, for no other 
reason than just that he held the kingdom. In other words, the 
divine decree had placed him on the throne of the kingdom, and 
admitted him to regal majesty, which could not be lawfully violated. 
If we constantly keep before our eyes and minds the fact, that even 
the most iniquitous kings are appointed by the same decree which 
establishes all regal authority, we will never entertain the 
seditious thought, that a king is to be treated according to his 
deserts, and that we are not bound to act the part of good subjects 
to him who does not in his turn act the part of a king to us. 
    28. It is vain to object, that that command was specially given 
to the Israelites. For we must attend to the ground on which the 
Lord places it - "I have given the kingdom to Nebuchadnezzar; 
therefore serve him and live." Let us doubt not that on whomsoever 
the kingdom has been conferred, him we are bound to serve. Whenever 
God raises any one to royal honour, he declares it to be his 
pleasure that he should reign. To this effect we have general 
declarations in Scripture. Solomon says - "For the transgression of 
a land, many are the princes thereof," (Prov. 28: 2.) Job says "He 
looseth the bond of kings, and girdeth their loins with a girdle," 
(Job 12: 18.) This being confessed, nothing remains for us but to 
serve and live. There is in Jeremiah another command in which the 
Lord thus orders his people - "Seek the peace of the city whither I 
have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord 
for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace," (Jer. 29: 7.) 
Here the Israelites, plundered of all their property, torn from 
their homes, driven into exile, thrown into miserable bondage, are 
ordered to pray for the prosperity of the victor, not as we are 
elsewhere ordered to pray for our persecutors, but that his kingdom 
may be preserved in safety and tranquillity, that they too may live 
prosperously under him. Thus David, when already king elect by the 
ordination of God, and anointed with his holy oil, though 
ceaselessly and unjustly assailed by Saul, holds the life of one who 
was seeking his life to be sacred, because the Lord had invested him 
with royal honour. "The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto 
my master, the Lord's anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against 
him seeing he is the anointed of the Lord." "Mine eye spared thee; 
and I said, I will not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he 
is the Lord's anointed," (1 Sam. 24: 6, 11.) Again, - "Who can 
stretch forth his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be 
guiltless?" "As the Lord liveth, the Lord shall smite him, or his 
day shall come to die, or he shall descend into battle, and perish. 
The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the 
Lord's anointed," (1 Sam. 26: 9-11.) 
    29. This feeling of reverence, and even of piety, we owe to the 
utmost to all our rulers, be their characters what they may. This I 
repeat the softener, that we may learn not to consider the 
individuals themselves, but hold it to be enough that by the will of 
the Lord they sustain a character on which he has impressed and 
engraven inviolable majesty. But rulers, you will say, owe mutual 
duties to those under them. This I have already confessed. But if 
from this you conclude that obedience is to be returned to none but 
just governors, you reason absurdly. Husbands are bound by mutual 
duties to their wives, and parents to their children. Should 
husbands and parents neglect their duty; should the latter be harsh 
and severe to the children whom they are enjoined not to provoke to 
anger, and by their severity harass them beyond measure; should the 
former treat with the greatest contumely the wives whom they are 
enjoined to love and to spare as the weaker vessels; would children 
be less bound in duty to their parents, and wives to their husbands? 
They are made subject to the froward and undutiful. Nay, since the 
duty of all is not to look behind them, that is, not to inquire into 
the duties of one another but to submit each to his own duty, this 
ought especially to be exemplified in the case of those who are 
placed under the power of others. Wherefore, if we are cruelly 
tormented by a savage, if we are rapaciously pillaged by an 
avaricious or luxurious, if we are neglected by a sluggish, if, in 
short, we are persecuted for righteousness' sake by an impious and 
sacrilegious prince, let us first call up the remembrance of our 
faults, which doubtless the Lord is chastising by such scourges. In 
this way humility will curb our impatience. And let us reflect that 
it belongs not to us to cure these evils, that all that remains for 
us is to implore the help of the Lord, in whose hands are the hearts 
of kings, and inclinations of kingdoms. "God standeth in the 
congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods." Before his 
face shall fall and be crushed all kings and judges of the earth, 
who have not kissed his anointed, who have enacted unjust laws to 
oppress the poor in judgement, and do violence to the cause of the 
humble, to make widows a prey, and plunder the fatherless. 
    30. Herein is the goodness, power, and providence of God 
wondrously displayed. At one time he raises up manifest avengers 
from among his own servants and gives them his command to punish 
accursed tyranny and deliver his people from calamity when they are 
unjustly oppressed; at another time he employs, for this purpose, 
the fury of men who have other thoughts and other aims. Thus he 
rescued his people Israel from the tyranny of Pharaoh by Moses; from 
the violence of Chusa, king of Syria, by Othniel; and from other 
bondage by other kings or judges. Thus he tamed the pride of Tyre by 
the Egyptians; the insolence of the Egyptians by the Assyrians; the 
ferocity of the Assyrians by the Chaldeans; the confidence of 
Babylon by the Medes and Persians, - Cyrus having previously subdued 
the Medes, while the ingratitude of the kings of Judah and Israel, 
and their impious contumacy after all his kindness, he subdued and 
punished, - at one time by the Assyrians, at another by the 
Babylonians. All these things however were not done in the same way. 
The former class of deliverers being brought forward by the lawful 
call of God to perform such deeds, when they took up arms against 
kings, did not at all violate that majesty with which kings are 
invested by divine appointment, but armed from heaven, they, by a 
greater power, curbed a less, just as kings may lawfully punish 
their own satraps. The latter class, though they were directed by 
the hand of God, as seemed to him good, and did his work without 
knowing it, had nought but evil in their thoughts. 
    31. But whatever may be thought of the acts of the men 
themselves, the Lord by their means equally executed his own work, 
when he broke the bloody sceptres of insolent kings, and overthrew 
their intolerable dominations. Let princes hear and be afraid; but 
let us at the same time guard most carefully against spurning or 
violating the venerable and majestic authority of rulers, an 
authority which God has sanctioned by the surest edicts, although 
those invested with it should be most unworthy of it, and, as far as 
in them lies, pollute it by their iniquity. Although the Lord takes 
vengeance on unbridled domination, let us not therefore suppose that 
that vengeance is committed to us, to whom no command has been given 
but to obey and suffer. I speak only of private men. For when 
popular magistrates have been appointed to curb the tyranny of 
kings, (as the Ephori, who were opposed to kings among the Spartans, 
or Tribunes of the people to consuls among the Romans, or Demarchs 
to the senate among the Athenians; and, perhaps, there is something 
similar to this in the power exercised in each kingdom by the three 
orders, when they hold their primary diets.) So far am I from 
forbidding these officially to check the undue license of kings, 
that if they connive at kings when they tyrannise and insult over 
the humbler of the people, I affirm that their dissimulation is not 
free from nefarious perfidy, because they fraudulently betray the 
liberty of the people, while knowing that, by the ordinance of God, 
they are its appointed guardians. 
    32. But in that obedience which we hold to be due to the 
commands of rulers, we must always make the exception, nay, must be 
particularly careful that it is not incompatible with obedience to 
Him to whose will the wishes of all kings should be subject, to 
whose decrees their commands must yield, to whose majesty their 
sceptres must bow. And, indeed, how preposterous were it, in 
pleasing men, to incur the offence of Him for whose sake you obey 
men! The Lord, therefore, is King of kings. When he opens his sacred 
mouth, he alone is to be heard, instead of all and above all. We are 
subject to the men who rule over us, but subject only in the Lord. 
If they command any thing against Him, let us not pay the least 
regard to it, nor be moved by all the dignity which they possess as 
magistrates - a dignity to which, no injury is done when it is 
subordinated to the special and truly supreme power of God. On this 
ground Daniel denies that he had sinned in any respect against the 
king when he refused to obey his impious decree, (Dan. 6: 22,) 
because the king had exceeded his limits, and not only been 
injurious to men, but, by raising his horn against God, had 
virtually abrogated his own power. On the other hand, the Israelites 
are condemned for having too readily obeyed the impious edict of the 
king. For, when Jeroboam made the golden calf, they forsook the 
temple of God, and, in submissiveness to him, revolted to new 
superstitions, (1 Kings 12: 28.) With the same facility posterity 
had bowed before the decrees of their kings. For this they are 
severely upbraided by the Prophet, (Hosea 5: 11.) So far is the 
praise of modesty from being due to that pretence by which 
flattering courtiers cloak themselves, and deceive the simple, when 
they deny the lawfulness of declining any thing imposed by their 
kings, as if the Lord had resigned his own rights to mortals by 
appointing them to rule over their fellows or as if earthly power 
were diminished when it is subjected to its author, before whom even 
the principalities of heaven tremble as suppliants. I know the 
imminent peril to which subjects expose themselves by this firmness, 
kings being most indignant when they are condemned. As Solomon says, 
"The wrath of a king is as messengers of death," (Prov. 16: 14.) But 
since Peter, one of heaven's heralds, has published the edict, "We 
ought to obey God rather than men," (Acts 5: 29,) let us console 
ourselves with the thought, that we are rendering the obedience 
which the Lord requires when we endure anything rather than turn 
aside from piety. And that our courage may not fail, Paul stimulates 
us by the additional considerations (1 Cor. 7: 23,) that we were 
redeemed by Christ at the great price which our redemption cost him, 
in order that we might not yield a slavish obedience to the depraved 
wishes of men, far less do homage to their impiety. 
    End of the Institutes. 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 4
(... conclusion, Volume 4)...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvin4-22.txt