Thursday, March 22, 2012

Henry Bullinger on Biblical Qualifications for Civil Magistrates

"And where the princes are God's
friends, and have often conference
with God, there is hope that those
commonwealths shall prosper and
flourish." --Henry Bullinger
originally posted at Reformed Covenanter

Now for the good election of magistrates, the Lord himself declareth whom and what kind of men he will have to be chosen, in these very words: “Look over all the people, consider them diligently, and choose from among them men of courage, such as fear God, speakers of truth, and haters of covetousness, and make them rulers over thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens, to judge the people at all seasons.” [Exodus 18:21]  Four things the Lord requireth in a good governor.  First, that he be a man of courage, of strength or force, that is, which hath ability to do the thing whereunto he is appointed.  That ability consisteth in mind rather than in body.  For it is required, that he be not a fool, but wise and skilful in that which he hath to do [...]

In the second place that is set down, which indeed is the first; let him fear God, let him be religious, and not superstitious.  No idolater preserveth the commonweal, but rather destroyeth it; and a wicked man defendeth not truth and true religion, but persecuteth and driveth them out of his jurisdiction.  Let this magistrate of ours therefore be of the right religion, sound in faith, believing the word of God, and knowing that God is present among men and doth repay to whom he list according to their deserts.  And for that cause Justinian, the emperor, in Novellis Constitutionib. 109, doth freely confess that all his help is of God; and that therefore it is convenient, that the making of all laws should depend upon him alone. [...] And where the princes are God’s friends, and have often conference with God, there is hope that those commonwealths shall prosper and flourish.  But, on the other side, there must needs be feared an unhappy end of that commonweal, where the enemies of God have the pre-eminence.  Thirdly, there is required of him, which must be chosen and called to be magistrate, that he be true in word and deed, so that he be not found to be an hypocrite, a liar, a deceiver,  a turncoat, nor one which out of one mouth doth blow both hot and cold; but faithful, simple, a plain dealer, and blameless. [...]

Covetousness and greedy desire of bribes are the very plagues that choke good magistrates.  By covetous men and takers of bribes law, judgment, liberty, justice, and the country itself, is set to sale and sold to the devil for money.  And now, though in this place the Lord hath named only the most pestilent mischief of all other, yet there is no doubt but that he doth inclusively debar all other vices and evils of that sort, commanding them to be strange and far off from the good magistrate and godly governor.  Those vices are pride, envy, anger, dicing, surfeiting, drunkenness, whoredom, adultery, and whatsoever else is like to these.

This place is made more manifest by conferring it with other places in the law of God.  Moses, in Deuteronomy, saith to the people: “Bring men of wisdom, of understanding, and of an honest life, according to your tribes.” [Deuteronomy 1:13] Three things here again doth the wise man, Moses, require in them that are to be appointed magistrates in his commonweal.  First, saith he, let them be wise.  But the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.  Let them therefore be ordained as magistrates, that are friends to God and true religion; let them be wise, and not foolish idiots.  Secondarily, they must be men of understanding; that is, men of experience, who by long and continual exercise in handling of matters are able at the first brunt to deal in all cases according to the law.  Lastly, they must be men of honest report, whose life and sound conversation are by their deeds perfectly tried and sufficiently witnessed of unto the people: and finally, they must be such as bear authority, and not be despised as rascal and vile knaves.

Henry Bullinger, Fifty godly and learned sermons divided into the five decades containing the chief and principal points of Christian religion, ed. Thomas Harding (1849-52 Parker edn; 4 vols, Grand Rapids, 2004), i, 319-21.


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