Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Jonathan Edwards on God as the Supreme Magistrate

Mankind cannot subsist out of society, especially if we comprehend families in the number of societies, and families cannot subsist without the protection of greater societies. As children depend absolutely on families for subsistence, so do families on kingdoms and commonwealths, for peace, security, property, life and everything. And societies cannot subsist without laws. Its members must know by what constitutions or customs they are to regulate their actions. And magistrates are as necessary as laws, for let the laws be never so good, they cannot execute themselves. 

And that laws and magistracy may answer that end, there is need of a Supreme Magistrate, who is almighty, perfectly wise and just, all-knowing, and perfectly acquainted with the conduct of inferior magistrates and of all subjects. Otherwise, the greatest irregularities and enormities may be committed by both with impunity. And it is necessary officers and subjects should know that they are under such a Supreme Magistrate, thus perfectly wise and just, who perfectly inspects and takes care of the society, will judge all, will reward and punish, and that all must give an account of themselves to him, otherwise the welfare of society will not be influenced by his government. That man, who does not believe that he is to account, in the severest manner, for the use and application of his power, ought never to be trusted with any power, because he will endeavor to draw all the advantages of society to himself and his instruments, and turn all its weight and strength against those who thwart his usurpations. 

How can mankind be more unhappy than under a fallible, or I should rather say, a corrupt administration that stands in awe of no superior? As to the subjects, if they do not look upon themselves as accountable to one that is omniscient, omnipotent, and inflexibly just, they will follow their own private ends, in all cases wherein authority can be resisted or evaded, which may be done in most cases. Public societies cannot be maintained without trials and witnesses. And if witnesses are not firmly persuaded that he who holds the supreme power over them is omniscient, just, and powerful, and will revenge falsehood, there will be no dependence on their oaths, or most solemn declarations.

God therefore must be the supreme magistrate. Society depends absolutely on him, and all kingdoms and communities are but provinces of his universal kingdom, who is King of kings, Lord of lords, and Judge of judges.

Thus, as mankind cannot subsist out of society, nor society itself subsist without religion. I mean, without faith in the infinite power, wisdom, and justice of God and a judgment to come; religion cannot be a falsehood. It is not credible that all the happiness of mankind, the whole civil world, and peace, safety, justice, and truth itself, should have nothing to stand on but a lie. It is not to be supposed that God would give the world no other foundation. So that religion is absolutely necessary, and must have some sure foundation.

Jonathan Edwards, Deism Revealed (2nd edition). Cited in "Reason by Jonathan Edwards" at A Puritan's Mind. Retrieved June 11, 2014 from

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