This question appears to be a difficult one insofar as circumstances tend to hinder it from being raised. On the one hand, it is quite unnecessary in a situation where the ruler fears God, and on the other hand, it is quite a dangerous question to ask in the realm of those kings who acknowledge no other sovereign but themselves. For this reason, few have given it any attention at all, and even then, only in passing. The question is, is it lawful to resist a ruler who violates the law of God, or who tries to ruin the church, or hinders the restoration of it? If we submit this question to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, it will quickly be answered. For if it had been lawful to the Jewish people (which may be easily seen in the books of the Old Testament), in fact, if it had been actually commanded them, I believe that the same principle may be applied to the entire people of any Christian kingdom or country whatsoever.
In the first place, it must be considered that God chose Israel out of all the nations of the earth to be a peculiar people to Him, and so He established a covenant with them that they should be the people of God. This is written in various places in Deuteronomy, the substance and tenor of this alliance being, "That all should be careful in their several lines, tribes, and families in the land of Canaan, to serve God purely, who would have a church established amongst them for ever." This may be seen in various passages, namely, the twenty-seventh chapter of Deuteronomy; there Moses and the Levites covenanting in the name of God, assembled all the people, and said unto them: "This day, O Israel, art thou become the people of God, obey you therefore His voice," etc. (Deut. 27:9-10) And Moses said, "When thou hast passed the River of Jordan, thou shalt set six tribes on the mountain of Gerizzim on the one side, and the six others on the mountain of Eball, and then the Levites shall read the law of God, promising the observers all felicity, and threatening woe and destruction to the breakers thereof, and all the people shall answer, Amen." (Deut. 27:15-26) This was afterwards repeated by Joshua, at his entering into the land of Canaan, and some few days before his death. We see by this that all the people are obligated to maintain the law of God to perfect His church and to exterminate the idols of the land of Canaan. This covenant was never intended to apply to this person or that person, but rather to the nation as a whole. This is seen in the placement of ark of the Lord in the center of camp with the tents of the the twelve tribes arranged around it in a large circle in other words, all should be concerned with the preservation of that which was committed to the custody of all.
There are examples in Scripture as to how this covenant was worked out in practice; for example, the inhabitants of Gibeah of the tribe of Benjamin gang-raped the wife of a Levite, and she died from the ordeal. The Levite then hacked his wife's body into twelve pieces and sent them to the twelve tribes, to the end that all the people together might wipe away this horrible crime that had ever been committed in Israel. (Jg. 19: 29-30) All the people met together at Mizpah and demanded that the Benjamites hand over the guilty parties for punishment. This the Benjamites refused to do, whereupon with the consent of God, the other tribes of Israel declared war against the Benjamites, and by this means the authority of the second Table of the Law was maintained: an entire Israelite tribe who had broken one of its commandments was massacred.
For the first we have an example sufficiently manifest in Joshua. After the Reubenites, Gadites, and Manassites returned to their own land beyond Jordan, they foolishly built a large, impressive altar near the river. (Josh. 22:9 ff.) This seemed contrary to the commandment of the Lord, who explicitly forbade them to sacrifice anywhere but in the land of Canaan only it was feared that these men intended to serve idols. This action was communicated to the people who inhabited this side of Jordan, the place assigned for the meetings of the states was at Silo where the Ark of the Lord was. They all accordingly met, and Phineas the High Priest, the son of Eleazar, was sent across the Jordan to deal with them concerning this offence committed against the law. And so that they might know that this was the will of all the people, they sent also the principal men of every tribe to complain that the service of God is corrupted by this device, that God would be provoked by this rebellion, and become an enemy, not only to the guilty, but also to all Israel, as was the case in Peor. In short, they would declare open war against them if they did not abandon whatever plans they had for their altar. Great harm would have resulted if the tribes beyond Jordan had not insisted that they had erected that altar only for a memorial and that the Israelites both on the one and the other side of Jordan profess one and the same religion. Whenever they have proven themselves to be negligent in the maintenance of the service of God, they have always been punished. This is the real reason why they lost two battles against the Benjamites as told in the end of the Book of Judges; for in so carefully undertaking to punish the rape and outrage done to a particular person, they neglected the maintenance of their duties to God, including omission to punish both corporal and spiritual immorality. There was then in these first times such a covenant between God and the people.
When after that, kings were given unto the people, there was no reason to revoke or void the former contract. In fact, it was renewed and confirmed for ever. We have already said at the inaugurations of kings, there was a double covenant treated of, to wit "between God and the king"; and "between God and the people." The agreement was first passed between "God, the king, and the people." Or between the "high priest, the people" (which can be found in the twenty-third chapter of the second book of the Chronicles) "and the king." The intention of this was that the "people should be the people of God," which is the same thing as saying, "that the people should be the church of God." We have showed before to what end God contracted covenants with the king.
Let us now consider why He also covenants Himself with the people. Certainly God has not done this in vain, and if the people had not "authority to promise, and to keep promise," it would be a waste of time to contract or covenant with them. It may seem then that God has done like certain creditors, who, having to deal with not very sufficient borrowers, take a number of them jointly bound for one and the same sum, insomuch as two or more being bound one for another and each of them separately, for the entire payment of the total sum, Under this arrangement, he may demand his whole debt from whatever one of them he pleases. There was much danger to commit the custody of the church to one man alone, and therefore God put it in trust "to all the people." The king being in such a high position that he might easily be corrupted. For fear that the church should stumble with him, God intended the people also to be answerable for it. He, or (in His place) the High Priest is the stipulator in this contract, the king and all the people, to wit, Israel, do jointly and voluntarily assume, promise, and oblige themselves for one and the same thing. The High Priest demands that the king and the people promise that the people shall be the people of God, and that God shall always have His temple, His church, among them, where He shall be purely served. The king is answerable, so also are the people (the whole body of the people are representative of the office and place of one man) not individually, but jointly, as the words themselves make clear, and immediately and without interruption, first the king, then the people.
We see here then two undertakers, the king and Israel, who by consequence are responsible one for another and each for the whole. For as when Caius and Titus have promised jointly to pay to their creditor Seius a certain sum, each of them is obligated for himself and his companion, and the creditor may demand the sum from which of them he pleases. Likewise, the king for himself, and Israel for itself are responsible to see to it that the church is not damaged. If either of them turn out to be negligent of their covenant, God may justly demand the whole from whichever of the two He pleases; more probably from the people than from the king, because many cannot so easily slip away as one, and have better means to repay the debts than one alone. In like manner, when two men are indebted, especially to the public treasury, the one is in such manner accountable for the other that he can take no benefit of the division granted by the new constitutions of Justinian. So likewise the king and Israel, promising to pay tribute to God, who is the King of Kings, for accomplishment whereof, the one is obliged for the other. And as two covenanters sign a contract, their mutual obligation that exposes them to forfeitures and hazards, the failings of the one causes damage to the other: so that if the people of Israel forsake their God and the king doesn't care, he is justly guilty of Israel's delinquency. In like manner, if the king starts to worship false gods, and, not content with his own idolatry, encourages his subjects to follow after him, attempting by all means to ruin the church, and if Israel seek not to withdraw him from his rebellion, and contain him within the limits of obedience, they make the king's transgression their own.
As when there is danger that one of the debtors frittering away his substance may make himself unable to meet his obligation, the other must satisfy the creditors who do not deserve to suffer loss; though one of his debtors has squandered his estate, this principle applies in the case of Israel toward their king, and of the king towards Israel. If one of them becomes an idolater or breaks the covenant in any other sort, the one of them must pay the forfeiture and be punished for the other. Now that the covenant of which we at this time treat is of this nature, it appears also by other testimonies of Holy Scripture. Saul being established king of Israel, Samuel, priest and prophet of the Lord, speaks in this manner to the people. "Both you and your king which is over you serve the Lord your God, but if you persevere in malice" (he taxes them of malice for that they preferred the government of a man before that of God) "you and your king shall perish." (2 Sam. 12:14-15) He adds after the reason, "for it has pleased God to choose you for His people." (2 Sam. 12:22) You see here both the parties evidently shared in the condition and the punishment. In like manner Asa, king of Judah, by the council of the prophet Assary, assembles all the people at Jerusalem, to wit, Judah and Benjamin, to enter into covenant with God. There came also a number of men from the tribes of Ephraim, Manasses, and Simeon, who were come there to serve the Lord according to His own ordinance. After the sacrifices were performed according to the law, the covenant was contracted in these terms, "Whosoever shall not call upon the Lord God of Israel, be he the least or the greatest, let him die the death." (2 Chr. 15:12-15) In making mention of the greatest, you see that the king himself is not excepted from the designed punishment.
But who may punish the king (for here is question of corporal and temporal punishment) if it be not the whole body of the people? For it is the people to whom the king swears and obliges himself, no more nor less, than the people do to the king. We read also that king Josiah, when he was twenty-five years old, together with the whole people, made a covenant with the Lord, the king and the people promising to keep the laws and ordinances of God; (2 Chr. 34:31-33) and for the better fulfillment of this agreement, the idolatry of Baal was presently destroyed. If any will carefully examine the Holy Bible, he may well find other testimonies to this purpose.
But to what purpose should the consent of the people be required; why should Israel or Judah be explicitly obligated to observe the law of God? For what reason should they promise so solemnly to be forever the people of God? If it be denied, by the same reason that they had any authority from God, or power to free themselves from perjury, or to hinder the ruin of the church. For it makes no sense to cause the people to promise to be the people of God, if they are also obligated to allow the king to draw them after false gods. If the people are absolutely in bondage, why are they commanded to take order that God be purely served? If they cannot properly perform their obligations to God, and if it is not not lawful for them to keep their promise, shall we say that God has made an agreement with them, who had no ability either to make a promise, nor to keep a promise? But, in making a covenant with the people, God openly and plainly shows that the people are able to make, hold, and accomplish their promises and contracts. For, if someone who bargains or contracts with a slave or a minor is not worthy to be heard in public court, shall it not be much more shameful to lay this charge upon the Almighty, that He should contract with those who had no power to perform the conditions of the covenant?
But for this occasion it was, that when the kings had broken their covenants, the prophets always addressed themselves to the House of Judah and Jacob, and to Samaria, to advise them of their covenantal duties. Furthermore, they required the that people not only refuse for themselves the sacrificing to Baal, but also that they call down the king's idol, and destroy his priests and service in spite of the king himself. For example, Ahab having killed the prophets of God, the prophet Elijah assembles the people, and as it were converted the estates, and accuses, censures, and reproves every one of them; his exhortation causes the people to take and put to death the priests of Baal. (1 Ki. 18:40) And for so much as the king neglected his duty, it behooved Israel more carefully to perform theirs without any kind of a riot, not in haste, but by public authority; the people and officials being assembled, and the equity of the cause orderly debated, and carefully considered before they came to the execution of justice. Despite this, whenever Israel has failed to oppose their king who would abandon the service of God, that which has been formerly said of the two debtors (that is, the foolish management of the one always causes injury to the other) happened to them; for as the king has been punished for his idolatry and disloyalty, the people have also been chastised for their negligence, ignorance, and stupidity. It has commonly happened that the kings have been much more often seduced, and drawn others with them than the people have corrupted a king, for ordinarily it is the king who sets the example which the people follow. In other words, many more usually offend after the example of one, than that one will change himself as he sees all the rest.
Perhaps this will be made clear by examples. What do we suppose to have been the cause of the defeat and overthrow of the army of Israel with their king Saul? Does God chastise the people for the sins of the ruler? Is the child beaten instead of the father? It is hard to swallow, people say, to maintain that the children should bear the punishments due their fathers; the laws do not permit that anyone shall suffer for the wickedness of another. Now God forbid that the judge of all the world (said Abraham) should destroy the innocent with the guilty. On the contrary, says the Lord, as the life of the father, so the life of the son is in my hands; the fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin. (Deut. 24:16) That overthrow, then, happened because the people did not oppose Saul when he violated the law of God, but applauded that miserable ruler when he wickedly persecuted David and the priests of the Lord.
There are many other examples; let us consider a few. The enlarge the possessions of the tribe of Judah, Saul broke the public faith granted to the Gibeonites, when the Israelites first came into the land of Canaan, and put to death as many of them as he could find. (2 Sam. 21:1-2) By this execution Saul broke the third commandment, for God had been called to witness this agreement (Josh. 9:15-20), and the sixth also, in so much as he murdered the innocent; he ought to have maintained the authority of the two Tables of the Law. Therefore it is said that Saul and his house have committed this wickedness (2 Sam 21:1). In the meantime, after Saul's death, and after David had been established king, the whole country of Israel was afflicted with a famine for three years because of this cruelty, and the hand of the Lord did not cease to strike until that seven men of the house of Saul were given to the Gibeonites, who put them to death. Now, seeing that every one ought to bear his own burden, and that no man can inherit another's crime, why do they say that all the whole people of Israel deserved to be punished for Saul, who was already dead, and had (as it might seem) that controversy buried in the same grave with him? It is that the people neglected to oppose a mischief so heinous, although they should have done it. Do you think it's reasonable that any should be punished unless they deserve it? In what way have the people failed, but that they allowed their king to do evil? In like manner when David commanded Joab and the governors of Israel to number the people, (1 Chr. 21) he is charged with having committed a great sin; for even as Israel provoked the anger of God in demanding a king in whose wisdom they seemed to place their safety, even so David did much forget himself in hoping for victory through the multitude of his subject. This is very much like the abominable idolatry mentioned elsewhere in Scripture of "sacrificing to their net, and burning incense to their dragnet." (Hab. 1:16) The governors, seeing that it would bring evil on the people, hesitated at first. But then, when the obligation to carry out the command became too heavy for them to resist, they went ahead with the census; in the meantime all the people were punished. Then David, and also the elders of Israel, who represented the whole body of the people, put on sack-cloth and ashes. This practice was not done when David committed those horrible sins of murder and adultery. It is clear that in this last act, all had sinned, and that all should repent; and finally that all were chastised: David, who had provoked God by so wicked a commandment, the governors, who as peers and assessors of the kingdom, ought in the name of all Israel to have opposed the king, and the people, by their connivancy and over-weak resistance, who allowed themselves to be numbered without a fight. In this respect, God acted much like a chief commander or general of an army: he chastised the offence of the whole camp by a sudden alarm given to all, and by the exemplary punishments of some particulars to keep all the rest in better awe and order.
But tell me why, after that, when King Manasseh had defiled the Temple at Jerusalem (2 Chr. 33:5), did God not only afflict Manasseh, but all the people also? (2 Chr. 33:11) It was to warn Israel, one of the sureties, that if they do not keep the king within the limits of his duty, they would all suffer for it; for what did the prophet Jeremiah meant when he said that the house of Judah is in subjection to the Assyrians, because of the impiety and cruelty of Manasses? They were guilty of all his offences, because they made no resistance. It was for this reason that Saint Augustine and Saint Ambrose said Herod and Pilate condemned Jesus Christ, the priests delivered Him to be crucified and even though the people seem to have some compassion, nevertheless all were punished. But why? For all were guilty of His death because they did not deliver Him out of the hands of those wicked judges and governors. There can be added to this many other proofs drawn from various secular authors for the further proof of this point, but the testimonies of holy scripture should be enough to be sufficient for Christians.
Furthermore, since it is the duty of a good magistrate to hinder and prevent mischief than to chastise the delinquents after the offence has been committed, as good physicians who prescribe a diet to allay and prevent diseases, not just medicines to cure them after the fact. In like manner a truly godly people will not simply agree to reprove and repress a ruler who tries to abolish the law of God, but also will take care that through malice and wickedness, he produce nothing that may hurt the same, or that over a long period of time would corrupt the pure service of God. And instead of supporting public offences committed against the Divine Majesty, they will take away all means by which the offenders might hide their sins; we read that to have been practiced by all Israel by a public council in the assembly of the whole people, to remonstrate to those beyond Jordan, touching the altar they had built (Josh. 22:16), and by the king Hezekiah, who caused the brazen serpent to be broken. (2 Ki. 18:4)
It is then lawful for the people of Israel to resist the king, who would overthrow the law of God and abolish His church. And not only that, but also they ought to know that if they neglect to perform this duty, they make themselves guilty of the same crime, and shall bear the punishment along with their king.
If their assaults are verbal, their defence must be likewise verbal; if the sword is drawn against them, they may also take arms, and fight either with tongue or hand, as circumstances warrant. Even if they be assailed by surprise attacks, they may make use both of ambushes and counterattacks, since there is no rule in lawful war that directs them to use one over the other, whether it be by openly attacking their enemy, or by waylayings; provided always that they carefully distinguish between advantageous stratagems, and perfidious treason, which is always unlawful. But I anticipate an objection at this point. Will you say that a whole people, that beast of many heads, must run in a mutinous disorder, to order the business of the commonwealth? What address or direction is there in an unruly and unbridled multitude? What counsel or wisdom, to manage the affairs of state? When we speak of all the people, we understand by that, only those who hold their authority from the people, that, the magistrates who are inferior to the king, and whom the people have substituted, or established, an assembly with a kind of tribunal authority, to restrain the encroachments of sovereignty, and to represent the whole people. We understand also, the assembly [comitia], which is nothing else but the embodiment, or brief collection of the kingdom, to whom all public affairs are referred such were the seventy elders in the kingdom of Israel, among whom the high priest was, as it were, president, and they judged all matters of greatest importance. Those seventy were first chosen by six out of each tribe that came out of the land of Egypt, then the heads or governors of provinces. In like manner the judges and provosts of towns, the captains of thousands, the centurions and others who commanded over families, the most valiant, noble, and otherwise notable personages, of whom was composed the body of the states, assembled various times as it plainly appears by the word of the holy scripture. At the election of the first king, who was Saul, all the elders of Israel assembled together at Kama. In like manner all Israel was assembled, or all Judah and Benjamin, etc. It is no way probable that all the people, individually, met together there. Of this rank there are in every well governed kingdom, the rulers, the officers of the crown, the peers, the greatest and most notable lords, the deputies of provinces, etc., of whom the ordinary body of the estate is composed, or the parliament or the diet, or other assembly, according to the different names used in various countries of the world. The main purpose of these assemblies is both for the preventing and reforming disorder or detriment in the Church or in the community.
For as the councils of Basil and Constance have well decreed that the universal council is in authority above the bishop of Rome, so in like manner, the whole chapter may overrule the bishop, the university the rector, the court the president. In short, whoever has received authority from a company is inferior to that whole company, although he is superior to any one of the individual members of it. Also, there is no doubt that the people of Israel, who demanded and established a king, must needs be above Saul who was established at their request and for their sake, as it shall be more fully proved hereafter. And since an orderly proceeding is required to wisely and judiciously address all matters, and it is not likely that such order can be maintained among large numbers of people, and since there are often circumstances which may not be made known to a multitude without obviously endangering the commonwealth, we say that all that which has been spoken of privileges granted, and right committed to the people, ought to be referred to the officers and deputies of the kingdom: and all that which has been said of Israel is to be understood of the rulers and elders of Israel, to whom these things were granted and committed as the practice also has verified.
The queen Athaliah, after the death of her son Ahazia king of Judah, put to death all those of the royal blood, except little Joash, who, being yet in the cradle, was preserved by the piety and wisdom of his aunt Jehoshabeath. (2 Chr. 22:10-12.) Athaliah took possession of the government, and reigned six years over Judah. It may well be the people murmured between their teeth, and dare not by reason of danger express what they thought in their minds.
Finally, Jehoiada, the high priest, the husband of Jehoshabeah, having secretly made a league and combination with the chief men of the kingdom, anointed and crowned his nephew Joash king who was only seven years old. (2 Chr. 23:11) And he did not just drive the Queen Mother from the royal throne, but he also had her put to death, and then he overthrew the idolatry of Baal. (2 Chr. 23:1-15) This deed of Jehoiada is approved, and for good reason, for he took on him the defence of a good cause. He assailed the tyranny, and not the kingdom. The tyranny (I say) which had no title, as our modern civilians speak. For by no law were women admitted to the government of the kingdom of Judah. Furthermore, that tyranny was in vigor and practice. For Athaliah had with unbounded mischief and cruelty invaded the realm of her nephews, and her administration committed infinite wickedness, and what was the worst of all, had cast off the service of the living God to worship the idol of Baal, and to compel others to do the same. Therefore, she was justly punished, and by him who had a lawful calling and authority to do so. For Jehoiada was not a private individual, but the high priest to whom the knowledge of civil causes did then belong. And besides, he had for his associates the principal men of the kingdom, the Levites, and he himself the king's kinsman and ally. Also note that he was not reproved for failing to gather the people at Mizpah according to custom nor for planning the coup de etat secretly, for if he had proceeded any other way, the whole business most likely would have failed.
Such conspiracies can be either good or bad depending on whether the end to which they're addressed is good or bad, and perhaps also according as the conspirators themselves are affected. We say then, that the rulers of Judah have done well, and that in following any other course they had failed of the right way. For even as the guardian ought to take charge and care that the goods of his pupil do not fall into disrepair or ruin, and if he neglect this duty, he may be compelled to give an account of himself. In like manner, those to whose custody and instruction the people have committed themselves, and whom they have made their teachers and defenders ought to keep them safe and whole in all their rights and privileges. In summary, just as it is lawful for a whole people to resist and oppose tyranny, so likewise the principal persons of the kingdom may, for the good of the people, do the same. And as it can be said in the first case that the majority may act for all, the same is true in the second that despite the fact that it is only the kingdom's high-ranking officials who have engineered the coup, it is no different than if all the people had done the deed.
But this raises another question, which deserves some consideration and debate in regard of the circumstance of time. Let us suppose that a king seeks to abolish the law of God and ruin the church. And furthermore, that the majority of the people give their consent and that all the rulers or the greatest number of them do nothing. And then suppose that a small group of people (for example, some of the rulers and magistrates) desire to preserve the law of God entirely and inviolably, and to serve the Lord purely. What is lawful for them to do if the king seek to compel those men to be idolaters, or will take from them the exercise of true religion? We are not speaking here of a small collection of private individual, but rather the population of an entire city or province, as well as the governing magistrate, that may comprise no small part of the kingdom.
Because of the tendency of men to neglect to uphold and maintain the law of God, there aren't many examples we could use to prove our point. Nevertheless we do have a few to be considered. Libnah, a town of the priests, withdrew itself from the obedience of Joram, king of Judah, and left that ruler, because he had abandoned the God of his fathers, whom those of the town would serve (2 Chr. 21:10), and it may be they feared also lest in the end they should be compelled to sacrifice to Baal. In like manner when that the king Antiochus commanded that all the Jews should embrace his religion, and should forsake all that God Almighty had taught them, Mattathias answered, we will not obey, nor will we do anything contrary to our religion. And he did not merely confine his protest to words, but also, being transported with the zeal of Phineas, he killed with his own hands a Jew, who commanded his fellow citizens to sacrifice to idols. Then he took arms and retreated into the mountain, gathered troops, and made war against Antiochus, for religion, and for his country. He met with such success, that he regained Jerusalem, broke and brought to nothing the power of the pagans whom they had brought in to ruin the church, and then re-established the pure service of God. If you want to know who this Mattathias was, he was the father of the Machabees of the tribe of Levi, and it was not lawful for him, according to the received custom and right of his people, to restore the kingdom by arms from the tyranny of Antiochus. His followers had escaped into the mountains together with the inhabitants of Modin, to they whom had allied themselves along with some neighboring Jews and other fugitives from various places around Judaea. In other words, all who eagerly desired the re-establishment of the church. Almost all the rest, even their leaders, obeyed Antiochus, even after the rout of his army and his own miserable death. Although that was then a good time to throw off the yoke, the Jews instead went to the son of Antiochus and entreated him to assume rulership of the kingdom, promising him fidelity and obedience.
I might here produce the example of Deborah. (Judg. 4) The Lord God had subjected Israel to Jabin king of Canaan, and they had remained in this servitude for twenty years, who might seem in some sort to have thus gained a right to rule Israel kingdom, and also because almost all Israel followed after strange gods. The principal and most powerful tribes, to wit, Reuben, Ephraim, Benjamin, Dan, Asher, and some others, adhered wholly to Jabin. Yet, notwithstanding, the prophetess Deborah who judged Israel, caused the tribes of Zebulon, Nephthali, and Issachar, or at the least some of all those tribes, to take arms under the command of Barak, and they overthrew Sisera the lieutenant of Jabin, and delivered Israel, who had no thought of liberty, and was content to remain in bondage. Then, having thrown off the yoke of the Canaanites, they re-established the pure service of the living God. But even though Deborah seems to have had an extraordinary vocation, the scripture does not approve in explicit terms the doings of them of Libnah. Because the scriptures did not specifically disallowing their proceedings, it may seem in some sort to allow them, and because the history of the Machabees has had no great authority in the ancient church, and because it is commonly held that an assertion must be proved by laws and testimonies and not by examples, therefore, let us examine by the effect, what we ought to judge, according to the right of the matter now in question.
Earlier, we said said that the king swore to keep the law of God, and promised to the greatest extent of his power to maintain the church and that the people of Israel, considered in one body, covenanting by the high priest, made the same promise to God. Now, at this point, we say that all the towns and all the magistrates of these towns, which are parts and portions of the kingdom, promise each of them on his own behalf, and in explicit terms, that which all towns and Christian communities have also done, although it has only been an implied consent. Joshua, being very old and near to his death, assembled all Israel at Sichem in the presence of God, that is, before the ark of the covenant, which was there. (Josh. 24) It is said that the elders of the people, the heads of the tribes, the judges and governors, and all who had any public command in the town of Israel, met together there, and they swore to observe and keep the law of the Lord, and did willingly put on the yoke of the Almighty God. It appears, by this act, that these magistrates obligated themselves in the names of their towns and communities, who sent them for this purpose, that God should be served throughout the whole country, according as He had revealed in His law. And Joshua, for his part, having passed this contract of agreement between God and the people, and obtained the consent of all, accordingly, he immediately set up a stone for a perpetual memorial of the matter.
If there was reason to move the ark of the Lord, the principals of the country and towns, the captains, the centurions, the provosts, and others, were summoned by the decree and commandment of David; and of the synagogue Lord's temple, it be not supposed, that some alteration has been inserted after the creation of kings. In the times of Joash and Josiah, when there was question of renewing the covenant between God and the people, all the various classes of people met together, and all were bound and obligated particularly. Also not only the king, but the kingdom, and not only all the kingdom, but also all the pastors of the kingdom, promised each of them for themselves, fidelity and obedience to God. I say again, that not only the king and the people, but also all the towns of Israel, and their magistrates, obligated themselves to God, and, as vassals to their liege Lord, made themselves His forever, with and against all men. For further proof of the aforesaid, I would ask the reader to diligently study the Holy Bible, especially the books of the Kings and the Chronicles. But for a fuller explanation of this matter, let us look at an example from the present day.
In the empire of Germany, when the emperor is to be crowned, the electors and rulers of the empire, secular as well as ecclesiastical, meet together personally, or else send their ambassadors. The prelates, earls and barons, and all the deputies of the imperial towns, come there also, or else send special proxies; then do they their homage to the emperor, either for themselves, or for them whom they represent, with, and under, certain conditions. Now, let us presuppose that one of these who has done homage voluntarily, afterwards tries to depose the emperor, and advance himself into his place, and that the rulers and barons deny their sovereign the aid and tribute which they owe him, and that they have information concerning that other who conspired and sought to possess himself of the imperial throne. Do you think that they of Strasburg or of Nuremberg, who have bound themselves by faith unto the lawful emperor, don't have lawful right to repress and exclude this traitorous intruder? Quite the contrary, if they refuse to do it, if they do not render assistance to the emperor in this his necessity, do you think that they have satisfied or performed their fealty and promise, considering that he who refuses to assist his governor when he had means to do it ought to be held as culpable and guilty as he who afflicted the violence and injury to him? If it be so (as every one may sufficiently see it is) is it not then lawful for the men of Libnah and of Modin? And does not their duty command them to do as much as if the other estates of the kingdom have deserted God, to whose service and pleasure they know and acknowledge themselves to be bound to render obedience?
Let us imagine then some Joram or Antiochus who abolishes true religion, and lifts up himself above God, that Israel willingly participates and is content, what should that town do which desires to serve God purely? First, they should say with Joshua, look whom you desire rather to obey, the living God, or the gods of the Amorites; but for our parts, we and our families will serve the Lord. (Josh. 24:15) Choose then, I say, if you will obey in this point him, who, without any right, usurps that power and authority which no way belongs to him. As for me, whatever happens, I will keep my faith to him to whom I promised it. I have no doubt that Joshua would have done his utmost to maintain the pure service of the living God in Thamnathe Serathe (a town of Ephraim where his house and estate lay) if the Israelites all around him had so much forgotten themselves as to have worshipped the god of the Amorites in the land of Canaan.
But if the king takes it one step further, and send his lieutenants to compel us to become idolaters, and if he commands us to desert God and His service; shall we not rather shut our gates against the king and his officers, than drive out of our town the Lord who is the King of Kings? Let the representatives and citizens of towns and the magistrates and governors of the people of God dwelling in towns realize that they have contracted two covenants, and taken two oaths. The first and most ancient is with God, to whom the people have sworn to be His people; the second is with the king, to whom the people have promised obedience, as to him who is the governor and conductor of the people of God. So then, as if a provincial governor conspires against his sovereign, although he had received from him an unlimited authority, if he should summon us to deliver the king whom he held besieged within the enclosure of our walls, we ought not to obey him, but resist with the utmost of our power and means, according to the tenor of our oath of allegiance. In like manner do we think that it is not a wickedness above all most detestable, if at the pleasure of a ruler who is the vassal and servant of God, that we should drive God from dwelling among us, or deliver Him (as much as we can) into the hands of His enemies?
You will say, it may be that the towns belong to the ruler. And I answer, that the towns do not consist of a heap of stones, but rather people, and that the people are the people of God, to whom they are first bound by oath; and secondly, to the king. For the towns, although the kings have power over them, notwithstanding the right of inheritance of the soil belongs to the citizens and owners, for all that which is in a kingdom is indeed under the dominion of the king, but not in his patrimony. God in truth is the only Lord proprietor of all things, and it is of Him that the king holds his jurisdiction, and the people their patrimony. This is just like saying, you will reply, that for the cause of religion it shall be lawful for the subjects to revolt from the obedience of their king. If this be once granted, it will presently open a gap to rebellion? But I ask you to listen patiently and consider this matter more thoroughly. I will say two things, first, if the one must be done, it would be much better to forsake the king than God; second, Saint Augustine in his fourth book, Of the City of God, chapter iv, and in the nineteenth book, and chapter xxi, says that where there is no justice, there is is no commonwealth; that there is no justice when mortal men would pull another men out of the hands of the immortal God, to make him a slave of the devil, seeing that justice is a virtue that gives to every one that which is his own. Those who draw their necks out of the yoke of such rulers, deliver themselves from the tyranny of wicked spirits, and abandon a multitude of robbers, but not the commonwealth.
But to resume this discussion at a higher level, those who carry themselves as has been formerly said are not guilty of the crime of revolt. Those are said properly to have quit the king or the commonwealth, which, with the heart and purpose of an enemy, withdraw themselves from the obedience of the king or the commonwealth, by which reason they are justly accounted adversaries, and are often much more to be feared than any other enemies. But those of whom we now speak do nothing to resemble them. First, they do not absolutely refuse to obey, provided that they be commanded that which they may lawfully do, and that it be not against the honor of God.
They pay willingly the taxes, customs, imposts, and ordinary payments, provided that with these they seek not to abolish the tribute which they owe unto God. They obey Caesar while he commands in the quality of Caesar; but when Caesar exceeds his bounds, when he usurps that dominion which isn't his, when he attempts to assail the Throne of God, when he wars against the Sovereign Lord, both of himself and the people, they then think it reasonable not to obey Caesar. Yet, after this, to speak properly, they do no acts of hostility. He is properly called an enemy who stirs up or provokes another, who, out of military insolency prepares and sets forth parties to war. Only after they have been assailed by open war, and close and treacherous surprisals; and death and destruction surrounds them, do they then they take arms, and wait their enemies' assaults. You cannot have peace with your enemies whenever you want; for if you lay down your arms, if you cease making war, they will not respond by disarming themselves, and lose their advantage. However, with these men, desire but peace and you have it; quit attacking them, and they will lay down their arms; cease to fight against God, and they will presently leave the field. Will you take their swords out of their hands? Then all you have to do is to abstain from striking, seeing that they are not the assailants, but the defendants; sheathe your sword, and they will presently cast their buckler on the ground, which has been the reason that they have often been surprised by perfidious ambushes, of which our times have afforded too many examples.
Now, as a servant is not stubborn or a fugitive who deflects the blow which his lord strikes at him with his sword, or who withdraws or hides himself from his master's fury, or shuts his chamber door upon him until his anger has died down, much less ought we to think those seditious, who (holding the name and place of servants and subjects) shut the gates of a city against their ruler, beside himself with anger, being ready to do all his just commandments, after he has recovered his judgment, and related his former indignation. We must place in this rank, David, commander of the army of Israel, under Saul, a furious king. David, oppressed false taxations, watched, and waylaid retired unto, and defended himself in unaccessible mountains, and provided for his defence to oppose the walls of Ceila against the fury of the king. He even drew unto his party all those that he could, not to take away Saul's life from him, as it plainly appeared afterwards, but to defend his own cause: see how Jonathan, the son of Saul, had no difficulty making an alliance with David, and to renew it from time to time which is called the alliance of the Almighty. And Abigail said explicitly, that David was wrongfully assailed, and that he made the war of God.
We must also place in this rank the Machabees, who, having the means to continue the war unabated, were nevertheless content to receive peace from king Demetrius and others, which Antiochus had offered them before, because by it they should be secured in the free possession and exercise of their religion. We may remember that those who in our times have fought for true religion against Antichrist, both in Germany and France, have laid down arms as soon as it was permitted them to serve God truly according to His ordinances, even after having the means and opportunity to advance and continue the war to their great advantage, as when the Philistines compelled Saul to cease attack, and Antioch to desist from an assault upon its neighbors, and other occasions when everything favored further warfare. See then the marks which distinguish those of whom we speak from actual rebels or the seditious.
But let us yet see other evidence of the justness of their cause, for their defection is such that, that if the cause of it is removed, then they presently return to their former condition (barring extreme necessity otherwise), and then you cannot properly say that they separated themselves from the king, or the country, but instead they left Joram, or Antiochus, or if you will, the tyranny and unlawful power of one alone, or of several, who had neither authority nor right to exact obedience in the manner they have commanded. The doctors of the Sorbonne have taught us similar things many times: of which we will now produce some examples.
About the year 1300 Pope Boniface VIII, seeking to appropriate to his See the royalties that belonged to the crown of France, Philip the Fair, the then king, did taunt him somewhat sharply: the tenor of whose tart letters are these:
"Philip by the Grace of God, King of the French, to Boniface, calling himself Sovereign Bishop, little or no health at all.
"Be it known to the great foolishness and unbounded rashness that in temporal matters we have only God for our superior, and that the vacancy of certain churches belongs to us by royal prerogative, and that appertains to us only to gather the fruits, and we will defend the possession thereof against all opposers with the edge of our swords, accounting them fools, and without brains who hold a contrary opinion."
In those days, all men acknowledged the pope as God's vicar on earth, and head of the universal church. Insomuch, that (as it is said) common error went instead of a law, notwithstanding the Sorbonne, assembled and consulted, made answer, saying that the king and the kingdom might safely, without blame or danger of schism, exempt themselves from his obedience, and flatly refuse that which the pope demanded, because it is not the separation but the cause which makes the schism, and if there were schism, it should be only in separating from Boniface, and not from the church, nor from the pope, and that there was no danger nor offence in so remaining until some honest man were chosen pope. Everyone knows into what perplexities the consciences of a whole kingdom would fall, which held themselves separated from the church, if this distinction, that is, between the papal office and the pope, is not true. I would ask now, if it is not yet more lawful to make use of this distinction, when a king invades and encroaches on the jurisdiction of God, and oppresses with hard servitude, the souls dearly bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Let us add another example.
In the year of our Lord 1408, when pope Benedict XIII opposed the French church by tributes and taxation; the clergy, assembled by the command of King Charles VI decreed that the king and inhabitants of the kingdom ought not to obey Benedict, who was an heretic, a schismatic, and altogether unworthy of that dignity: that the nobles of the kingdom approved, and the parliament of Paris confirmed by a decree. The same clergy also ordained that those who had been excommunicated by that pope, as forsakers and enemies of the church, should be presently absolved, nullifying all such excommunications, and this has been practiced not in France only, but in other places also, as histories credibly report. Which gives us the opportunity to plainly see and know, that if he who holds the place of a ruler governs ill, there may be a separation from him without incurring justly the blame of revolt; for that they are things in themselves directly contrary, to leave a bad pope, and forsake the church, a wicked king, and the kingdom. The inhabitants of Libnah seem to have followed this before remembered expedient; for after the re-establishment of the service of God they presently became again the subjects of king Hezekiah. And if this distinction is allowed, when a pope encroaches on the rights of any ruler, which, notwithstanding in some cases acknowledges him for his sovereign, is it not much more allowable, if a ruler who is a vassal in that respect, attempts to acquire and appropriate to himself the rights of God? Let us conclude, then, to end this discussion, that all the people by the authority of those into whose hands they have committed their power, or a number of them, may, and ought to reprove and repress a ruler who commands things against God. In like manner, that all, or at the least, the principal men of provinces or towns, under the authority of the chief magistrates, established first by God, and secondly by the ruler, may according to law and reason, hinder the entrance of idolatry within the enclosure of their walls, and maintain their true religion; even further, they may extend the confines of the church, which is but one, and if having the means to do it, yet they neglect to, they justly incur the penalty of high treason against the Divine Majesty.
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