Richard Baxter: Political Rulers Are To Promote ‘The Interest of Christ, The Gospel, And The Church’

Alfred the Great Submitting His Laws


Mem. I. Remember that your power is from God, and therefore for God, and not against God, Rom. xiii. 2-4. You are his ministers, and can have no power except it be given you from above, John xix. 11. Remember therefore that as constables are your officers and subjects, so you are the officers and subjects of God and the Redeemer; and are infinitely more below him than the lowest subject is below you; and that you owe him more obedience than can be due to you; and therefore should study his laws, (in nature and Scripture,) and make them your daily meditation and delight, Josh. i. 3-5; Psal. i. 2, 3; Deut. xvii. 18-20. And remember how strict a judgment you must undergo when you must give account of your stewardship, and the greater your dignities and mercies have been, if they are abused by ungodliness, the greater will be your punishment, Luke xvi. 2; xii. 48.

Mem. II. Remember therefore and watch most carefully that you never own or espouse any interest which is adverse to the will or interest of Christ; and that you never fall out with his interest or his ordinances; and that no temptation ever persuade you that the interest of Christ, and the gospel, and the church, is an enemy to you, or against your real interest; and that you keep not up suspicions against them: but see that you devote yourselves and your power wholly to his will and service, and make all your interest stand in a pure subservience to him, as it stands in a real dependence on him.

Mem. III. Remember that, under God, your end is the public good; therefore desire nothing to yourselves, nor do any thing to others, which is really against your end.

Mem. IV. Remember therefore that all your laws are to be but subservient to the laws of God, to promote the obedience of them with your subjects, and never to be either contrary to them, nor co-ordinate, or independent on them; but as the by-laws of corporations are in respect to the laws and will of the sovereign power, which have all their life and power therefrom.

Mem. V. Let none persuade you that you are such terrestrial animals that have nothing to do with the heavenly concernments of your subjects; for if once men think that the end of your office is only the bodily prosperity of the people, and the end of the ministry is the good of their souls, it will tempt them to prefer a minister before you, as they prefer their souls before their bodies; and they that are taught to contemn these earthly things, will be ready to think they must contemn your office; seeing no means, as such, can be better than the end. There is no such thing as a temporal happiness to any people, but what tendeth to the happiness of their souls; and must be thereby measured, and thence be estimated. Though ministers are more immediately employed about the soul, yet your office is ultimately for the happiness of souls, as well as theirs; though bodily things (rewards or punishments) are the means, by which you may promote it; which ministers, as such, may not meddle with. Therefore you are custodes utriusque tabulæ, and must bend the force of all your government to the saving of the people’s souls. And as to the objection from heathen governors, distinguish between the office, and an aptitude to exercise it: the office consisteth, 1. In an obligation to do the duty; 2. And in authority to do it. Both these a heathen ruler hath (else the omission were a duty, and not a sin). But it is the aptitude to do the duty of his place which a heathen wanteth; and he wanteth it culpably; and therefore the omission is his sin; even as it is the sin of an insufficient minister that he doth not preach. For the question is of the like nature, and will have the like solution: Whether an ignorant minister be bound to preach, who is unable or heretical? It is aptitude that he wanteth, and neither authority nor obligation, if he be really a minister; but he is obliged in this order, first to get abilities, and then to preach: so is it in the present case.

Mem. VI. Encourage and strengthen a learned, holy, self-denying, serious, laborious ministry; as knowing, that the same Lord hath commissioned them in the institution of their office, who instituted yours; and that it is such men that are suited to the work, for which their office was appointed; and that souls are precious; and those that are the guides and physicians of souls, can never be too well furnished, nor too diligent. And the church hath no where prospered on earth, but in the prosperity of the abilities, holiness, and diligence of their pastors: God hath always built by such, and the devil hath pulled down by pulling down such.

Mem. VII. Remember that the people that are seriously religious, that love, and worship, and obey the Lord, with all their heart, are the best of your subjects, and the honour of your dominions: see therefore that serious godliness be every where encouraged, and that the profane and ignorant rabble be never encouraged in their enmity and opposition to it: and that true fanaticism, hypocrisy, and schism, be so prudently discountenanced and suppressed, that none may have encouragement to set themselves against godliness, under the slander or pretension of such names. If christianity be better than heathenism, those christians then are they that must be countenanced, who go further in holiness, and charity, and justice, than heathens do, rather than those that go no further (besides opinions and formalities) than a Cato, a Plato, or Socrates have done. If all religion were a deceit, it were fit to be banished, and atheism professed, and men confess themselves to be but brutes. But if there be a God, there must be a religion; and if we must be religious, we must sure be so in seriousness, and not in hypocrisy and jest. It being no such small, contemptible matter, to be turned into dissembling compliment.

Mem. VIII. Endeavour the unity and concord of all the churches and christians that are under your government, and that upon the terms which all Christ’s churches have sometime been united in; that is, In the Holy Scriptures implicitly, as the general rule; in the ancient creeds explicitly, as the sum of our credenda; and in the Lord’s prayer, as the summary of our expetenda; and in the decalogue, as the summary of our agenda; supposing, that we live in peaceable obedience to our governors, whose laws must rule us not only in things civil, but in the ordering of those circumstances of worship and discipline, which God hath left to their determination.

Mem. IX. Let all things in God’s worship be done to edification, decently, and in order, and the body honour God, as well as the soul; but yet see that the ornaments or garments of religion be never used against the substance; but that holiness, unity, charity, and peace, have alway the precedency.

Mem. X. Let the fear of sinning against God be cherished in all, and let there be a tenderness for such as are over-scrupulous and fearful in some smaller things: and let not things be ordered so, as shall most tend to the advantage of debauched consciences, that dare say or do any thing for their carnal ends. For they are truest to their governors, that are truest to their God; and when it is the wrath of God and hell that a man is afraid of, it is pity he should be too eagerly spurred on. The unconscionable sort will be true to their governors, no longer than it serves their interest; therefore conscientiousness should be encouraged.

Mem. XI. If the clergy, or most religious people, offend, let their punishment be such as falleth only on themselves, and reacheth not Christ, nor the gospel, nor the church. Punish not Christ for his servants’ failings, nor the gospel for them that sin against it; nor the souls of the people, for their pastors’ faults; but see that the interest of Christ and men’s souls be still secured.

Mem. XII. If the dissensions of lawyers or statesmen make factions in the commonwealth, let not the fault be laid on religion, though some divines fall into either faction. When the difference is not in divinity, but in law cases, blame not religion for that, which it hath no hand in: and watch against Satan, who alway laboureth to make civil factions or differences tend to the dishonour of religion, and the detriment of the church and gospel.

Mem. XIII. Take those that are covetous, ambitious, or selfish, and seek for preferment, to be the unfittest to be consulted with in the matters of religion, and the unfittest to be trusted with the charge of souls. And let the humble, mortified, self-denying men, be taken as fitter pastors for the churches.

Mem. XIV. Side not with any faction of contentious pastors, to the oppression of the rest, when the difference is in tolerable things; but rather drive them on to unity, upon condescending and forbearing terms: for there will else be no end; but the faction which you side with, will break into more factions, and the church will receive damage by the loss of the oppressed party, and by the division much more. What lamentable work the contentions of the bishops have made in the churches, in all ages, since the primitive times, all history doth too openly declare. And how much a holy, prudent, peaceable magistrate can do, to keep peace among them, more than will be done if their own impetuosity be left unrestrained, it is easy to observe; especially if he keep the sword in his own hand, and trust it not in the hands of churchmen, especially of one faction to the oppression of the rest.

Mem. XV. Believe not the accusations that are brought against the faithful ministers of Christ, till they are proved; and judge not them, or any of his servants, upon the reports of adversaries, till they have spoken for themselves; for the common corruption of depraved nature, doth engage all the ungodly in such an enmity against holiness, that there is little truth or righteousness to be expected from wicked and malicious lips, for any holy cause or person. And if such persons find but entertainment and encouragement, their malice will abound, and their calumnies will be impudent; which is the sense of Prov. xxix. 12, “If a ruler hearken to lies, all his servants are wicked.” The example of Saul and Doeg is but such as would be ordinary, if rulers would but hearken to such calumniators.

Mem. XVI. When the case is doubtful about using punishments and severities against the scrupulous in the matters of religion, remember your general directions, and see what influence they must have into such particulars; as, That the very work and end of your office is, that under your government the people may live quietly and peaceably in godliness and honesty, 1 Tim. ii. 2. And that rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil; and for the praise of them that do good; and ministers of God to us for good; and revengers to execute wrath upon them that do evil, Rom. xiii. 3, 4. And remember the danger of persecution, as described Matt, xviii. 6, 10, 14; 1 Thess. ii. 15, 16; 2 Chron. xxxvi. 14-17. And that he that doubteth of things indifferent is damned if he do them, because he doth them not of faith, Rom. xiv. 23. And remember whom and what it is that God himself forgiveth and forbeareth. And always difference the infirmities of serious conscionable christians, from the wickedness of unconscionable and ungodly men. Yet not extenuating the wickedness of any, because of his hypocritical profession of religion.

Mem. XVII. Remember that you must be examples of holiness to the people; and shun all those sins which you would have them shun, and be eminent in all those virtues which you would commend unto them. This is not only necessary to the happiness of those under you, but also for the saving of yourselves. As Paul saith to Timothy, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine, continue in them; for in doing this, thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee,” 1 Tim. iv. 16. So may I say to rulers, Take heed to yourselves, and unto government, and continue herein; for in doing this, you will save yourselves, and those you govern. They that are good are likest to do good; but the wicked will do wickedly, Dan. xii. 10.

The chief means for rulers to become thus holy and exemplary is, 1. To hearken to the doctrine and counsel of the word of the Lord, and to meditate in it day and night, Josh. i. 3, 4; Deut. xvii. 18-20. And to have faithful, holy, and self-denying teachers, 2 Chron. xx. 20. 2. To beware of the company and counsels of the wicked. “Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness,” Prov. xxv. 4, 5. 3. To watch most carefully against the special temptations of their great places, especially against sensuality and pride, and preferring their own honour, and interest, and will, before the honour, and interest, and will, of Jesus Christ. “Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning! Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness!” Eccl. x. 16, 17. “It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness; for the throne is established by righteousness,” Prov. xvi. 12. 4. To remember always the end of holiness. How sure a way it is to glory hereafter, and to leave a sweet and glorious name and memorial upon earth; when wickedness is the certain way to shame on earth, and misery for ever!

Mem. XVIII. Rulers should not be contented to do good at home, and to be the joy and blessing of their own subjects; but also set their hearts to the promoting of faith, and holiness, and concord, throughout the churches of the world; and to improve their interests in princes and states, by amicable correspondencies and treaties to these ends; that they may be blessings to the utmost extent of their capacities. As Constantine interceded with the Persian king, to forbear the persecuting of christians in his dominion, &c. But I shall presume to speak no further to my superiors; in the golden age these memorandums will be practised.

I will only annex Erasmus’s image of a good prince, and of a bad, recited by Alstedius Encyclop. lib. xxiii. Polit. c. 3. p. 173, 174.

The Image of a Good Prince, out of Erasmus.

“If you will draw the picture of a good prince, delineate some celestial wight, liker to God than to a man; absolute in all perfections of virtue; given for the good of all; yea, sent from heaven for the relief of mortal men’s affairs; which being (oculatissimum) most discerning, looketh to all! To whom nothing is more regarded, nothing more sweet, than the commonwealth; who hath more than a fatherly affection unto all. To whom every one’s life is dearer than his own; who night and day is doing and endeavouring nothing else, but that it may be very well with all; who hath rewards in readiness for all that are good; and pardon for the bad, if so be they will betake them to a better course; that so freely desireth to deserve well of his subjects, that if it be needful, he will not stick to preserve their safety by his own peril; that taketh his country’s commodity to be his own gain; that always watcheth, that others may sleep quietly; that leaveth himself no quiet vacancy, that his country may live in quiet vacancy, or peace; that afflicteth himself with successive cares, that his subjects may enjoy tranquillity. To conclude, on whose virtue it is, that the public happiness doth depend.”

The Image of a Bad Prince. Ibid.

“If you would set forth a bad prince to the eye, you must paint some savage, horrid beast, made up of such monstrosities as a dragon, a wolf, a lion, a viper, a bear, &c. every way armed, with six hundred eyes; every way toothed; every way terrible; with hooked talons; of an insatiable paunch; fed with men’s bowels; drunk with man’s blood; that watcheth to prey upon the lives and fortunes of all the people; troublesome to all, but specially to the good; a fatal evil to the world; which all curse and hate, who wish well to the commonwealth; which can neither be endured, because of his cruelty, nor yet taken away without the great calamity of the world, because wickedness is armed with guards and riches.”

From A Christian Directory, Part IV: Christian Politics

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