Thomas M’Crie on magistrates being the keepers of the moral law as ministers of God

Thomas M'Crie (1772 – 1835)

“Magistrates, in particular, are keepers, or guardians, of the moral law, of the first as well as the second table,  and, as “the ministers of God,” are eminently bound to promote his honour, and to see that his law is respected. With this view the fourth commandment is particularly directed to them, as well as to parents and masters; “Thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is WITHIN THY GATES,” Exod. 20:10. The prophet Jeremiah was commanded to “stand in the gates of the children of the people, by which the kings of Judah come in, and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem,” and to renew his command to “bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, and to hallow the sabbath, to do no work therein;” promising, that, if they hearkened to him, there should “enter into the gates of this city, kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David;” but denouncing the judgments of God if they transgressed this command, Jer. 17:19-27. compare chap. 22:1-9. The reason annexed to the third commandment implies, that magistrates should hold men guilty, and punish them for transgressions of it; although they often suffer such to escape with impunity. And the signal vengeance which God, in the second commandment, threatens to execute upon a people who deprave his worship, particularly by idolatry, with the special promise made to those who preserve it, urges strongly upon magistrates the duty of providing that the ordinances of Heaven be kept pure and entire among those over whom they rule. This not only excited the godly kings of Judah to remove the monuments of idolatry, and to provide for the restoration of the worship of God, 2 Kings 22:9-17. and 22:1-8. But it also had a powerful influence upon the Persian Monarchs, in disposing them to exert their authority for rebuilding the temple, and advancing the worship of God at Jerusalem. “I (Darius) make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of the house of God; that of the king’s goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expences be given unto these men, that they be not hindered. And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, &c., for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven let it be given them day by day without fail; that they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours unto the God of heaven, and PRAY FOR THE LIFE OF THE KING AND OF HIS SONS,” Ezra 6:8-10. And again, “I, even I, Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily, unto an hundred talents of silver, &c. Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven, FOR WHY SHOULD THERE BE WRATH AGAINST THE REALM OF THE KING AND HIS SONS,” Ezra 7: 21-23. Is God less jealous about the observance of his worship now, than he was of old? Or shall Christian rulers have less concern with it, in their official character and administrations, than the Persian kings? Read Isa. 40:9-12. and Zech. 14: 17-19. “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God,” 2 Samuel 23:3. not merely by acting religiously himself, but by promoting religion among those over whom he rules; “scattering away all evil,” and “cutting off all wicked doers from the city of the Lord.” “The fear of God” disposed Nehemiah, the governor, to “seek the welfare of the children of Israel,” not only by generously sacrificing the emoluments of his office, but by exerting his authority for preventing the profanation of the Sabbath, and issuing his commands and threatenings to those who persisted in its violation, Neh. 13:17,18. In the same religious manner did he act in repairing the house of God, purging it from the defilement which the priest had suffered, and in providing for the regular performance of divine ordinances: “And I perceived (says he) that the portions of the Levites had not been given them; for the Levites and singers that did the work, were fled every one to his field. Then contended I with the nobles, &c. Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and the offices thereof,” chap. 13:9.-14. It was formerly stated that one way in which a divine right, or the warrant for any duty is established, is by approved examples in scripture.

The word of God contains examples to persons in every character and station of life. In particular, it exhibits examples of godly magistrates. But where do we read, in all the book of God, of approved magistrates who confined themselves, in their official capacity, to civil matters, and the secular interests of mankind, and who did not employ their authority for the advancement of religion? We have a large account of the conduct of Moses and Joshua, David and Solomon, Asa and Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Josiah. Who will deny that their actions are recorded as an example to rulers? But they are commended chiefly for the warm zeal and activity, which they displayed in their station, in settling or reforming religion, providing for the instruction of their subjects, and the due administration of divine ordinances. No magistrate, who consults the Bible, will ever imagine that religious matters are excluded from his province. This notion must have been imbibed from some very different source. At those times in which God was about to effect an establishment of religion, or a general reformation of its interests, among his ancient people, he raised up and employed magistrates, to co-operate in this work with those to whom the immediate charge of religious administrations was committed. When he first established his ordinances among Israel as a nation, he not only employed Aaron the priest, but Moses the King in Jeshurun; and afterwards Joshua and Eleazar, David and Abiathar, Solomon and Zadok, Hezekiah and Azariah, Zerubbabel and Joshua. When deprived of their native princes, and under the dominion of a foreign power, the Lord stirred up the Persian Monarchs to favour the cause of his people, and not merely to tolerate, but encourage them by public edicts, and by granting them positive assistance for building the house of God, and maintaining his worship. And although, for special and wise reasons (which we may afterwards notice), he was pleased at first to spread the gospel among the nations, not only without the assistance of civil rulers, but in the face of their most determined opposition; yet, among the blessings promised to the church in New Testament times, as a testimony of his distinguished favour, are the countenance and aid of earthly powers, expressed with evident allusion to what had formerly taken place.

“The sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee,—thou shalt also suck the milk of the Gentiles, and shalt suck the breasts of kings,” Isa. 60:10-16.”

The Statement of the Difference Between the Profession of the Reformed Church of Scotland, as Adopted by Seceders, and the Profession Contained in the New Testimony and Other Acts, Lately Adopted by the General Associate Synod; Particularly, on the Power of Civil Magistrates Respecting Religion, National Reformation, National Churches, and National Covenants, etc. The book “is perhaps the ablest work extant that deals with the Confessional teaching on the subject of National Religion.”


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