Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Reading for the Year of a Presidential Election: The Mystery of Magistracy Unvailed (Anon.)

Alfred the Great, a godly king, of whom it could truly have
been said: "For he is the minister of God to thee for good.
But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth
not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a
revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil"
(Romans 13:4)

A pdf edition of the Mystery of Magistracy Unvailed has been prepared in 2012, the year of a U.S. Presidential election. There is no better time for Christians to read, learn and apply the Reformed doctrine of Magistracy. The book, perhaps better described as a tract, was first published anonymously in 1663. On the title page, the author describes himself as “An Unworthy Servant and Subject of Jesus Christ, the King of Saints and Nations.”
Some Reformed Presbyterians have attributed authorship to George Gillespie, while some Baptists have claimed Henry Danvers, a Governor of Stafford, England, and a Particular Baptist, as the author. But whoever the writer really was, when dealing with godless civil rulers, he uses the work of the Puritan, Edward Gee[1] (1613-1660), a Presbyterian minister in the County of Lancaster, England. Gee applied the distinction between the Providential will of God, and the Preceptive will of God to the civil magistrate. In the Providential will of God a wicked usurper and tyrant may rise to power. In the Preceptive will of God, only those rulers who receive their authority according to the precepts of Divine law, and serve Him, are truly ordained of God. Calvin would have agreed; commenting on Num. 11:17, he wrote:

Now, although God does not at present dwell in a visible tabernacle, yet are we reminded by this example [the gathering of the seventy] that pastors and magistrates are not duly ordained, unless they are placed in the presence of God; nor rightly inaugurated in their offices, unless when they consecrate themselves to God Himself, and when His majesty, on the other hand, acquires their reverence. 

In chapter 13 the writer makes Gee’s essential—but forgotten—distinction between rulers who have attained power merely in the providence of God, but are usurpers, tyrants and despisers of the laws of God, and those rulers described in Rom. 13:1-7, who are ordained according to the preceptive will of God. In the first category we can place rulers such as Absalom (briefly), Athaliah, Nero, and in modern times, Hitler, etc., which may be lawfully defied. In the second category are those like Moses, Samuel, David, Alfred the Great and Edward VI of England, which God requires his people to obey. The author makes it clear that Rom. 13:1-7 was never intended to apply to the Caesars of apostolic times, or their modern equivalents. Historically, the work was well regarded by Reformed Presbyterians[2] (Covenanters), as was the work of Edward Gee.[3]

Presumably most readers will prefer the new pdf edition linked below. But readers are also encouraged to check out the 1708 edition, found here on Google Books. Those not familiar with literature of that period may be surprised to find that the lower case “s” is formed very similarly to an “f,” except at the end of a word.

The work contains thirteen chapters. Of these the first twelve are relatively short while chapter 13, dealing with the “People’s Duty Under Wicked Rulers,” is long. It occupies more pages than the first twelve chapters combined. 

Here are the chapter headings:

CHAPTER 1:        Of the Original and First Institution of Magistracy.
CHAPTER 2:        Of the Orders or Kinds of Rulers.
CHAPTER 3:        Of the Qualifications Required in the Judge or Ruler.
CHAPTER 4:        Of the Electors, Who Were to Apply the Foresaid
                            Qualifications in the Choice of Rulers, and the
                            Manner of Election.
CHAPTER 5:        Of the Dignity of the Office.
CHAPTER 6:        Of the Ruler’s Duty to Enable Him to the Office.
CHAPTER 7:        Of the Ruler’s Duty (in General) in the Discharge
                            of his Trust, Wherein Government Principally
CHAPTER 8:        Of the Ruler’s Duty in Particular, as to the Manner
                            of the Discharge of his Trust.
CHAPTER 9:        Of the People’s Duty to their Magistrates, in the
                            Rules Following.
CHAPTER 10:      Of the Great Blessing Righteous Rulers are to a
                            People; Held Out in the Characters and Resemblances
CHAPTER 11:      Of the Promised Blessing that is to Attend the Latter
                            Days in a Righteous Rule and Ruler.
CHAPTER 12:      Of the Judgment and Curse Attending No Rule,
                            or an Evil Ruler.
CHAPTER 13:      Of the People’s Duty Under Wicked Rulers, Both
                            Towards God and Them.

--Submitted by a friend of Theonomy Resources

[1] Edward Gee, The Divine Right and Originall of the Civill Magistrate from God. Illustrated and Vindicated (London, 1658).
[2] First International Convention of Reformed Presbyterian Churches (Glasgow, [1896?]), 351,  In this publication, the Mystery of Magistracy Unvailed is attributed (incorrectly) to George Gillespie.
  A small, breakaway group of Reformed Presbyterians, led by David Steele constituted the Reformed Presbytery (Steelite) in 1840. They published their own editions of a Reformed Presbyterian document, the Act, Declaration, and Testimony, originally published in 1761, in Scotland.  Their 1876 edition contained several additions to the original document. One such addition has a reference to the 1708 and 1795 editions of the Mystery of Magistracy Unvailed and a few other publications. They are said to present “arguments in defence of the Reformed Presbytery’s position on civil government, logical, scriptural and hitherto unanswered.”  Act, Declaration, and Testimony (Philadephia, 1876), 162, 162n,
  Note that the last Steelite church, in Butler County, PA, closed its doors, circa 1994. However, various groups not connected with the original Steelites, have sprung up with the aim of reviving Steelite distinctives.
[3] The original Reformed Presbytery (Scotland) cited Gee’s Divine Right and Original, and possibly (one citation is somewhat unclear) his Treatise of Prayer and Divine Providence, in their Act, Declaration, and Testimony ([Edinburgh?], 1761), 120, 148, . Gee’s discussion of Magistracy is referred to as “an excellent discourse,” p. 120.

photo credit:

Alfred the Great's statue at Winchester
© Odejea / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY -SA 3.0)

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