I. Not feeling much anxiety about the origin and etymology of the word, we say that from the manner in which it is used, it has two meanings: for it either signifies in the abstract, the power and the function itself; or, in the concrete, the person who is constituted the administrator of this function with power. But, because the abstract consideration is more simple, and lays down the law to the concrete, therefore we will occupy ourselves first and chiefly in the description of it. (John xix. 10, 11; Ephes. i. 21; Rom. xiii. 1.)
II. We therefore define magistracy, in the abstract, a power pre-eminent and administrative, or a function with a preeminent power, instituted and preserved by God for this purpose, that men may, in the society of their fellow-men, "lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty," in true piety and righteousness, for their own salvation and to the glory of God. (Rom. xiii. 1-3; 1 Tim. ii. 2; 1 Pet. ii. 13; Prov. xxix. 4; Psalm 62; Isa. xlv. 22, 23.) For the more extensive explanation of this definition, we will consider the object--the efficient and the end, which are the external causes of this function, and the matter and the form, which are the internal causes, from which we will derive all the rest.
III. The object of this function is the multitude of man kind, who are sociable animals, and bound to each other by many ties of indigence and communication according both to nature and grace, and who live together in common society. This object, likewise, comprehends the end for which, that is, those for whose benefit magistracy has been instituted. Hence, likewise, this power deservedly obtains the name of public authority," as it is, first, immediately and principally occupied concerning the condition and conduct of all the people and the whole society; but, secondarily, concerning the state and benefit of each member, though it intends, of itself, both the good of the whole, and that of each individual in the entire society. (Num. xi. 12; 2 Chron. i. 9, 10; Rom. xii. 4, 5; 1 Cor. xii. 12-27; Ezek. xxxiv. 2.)
IV. The efficient cause which not only institutes magistracy, but also maintains it, is God himself. In him must be considered power purely free and independent, the best will, and the greatest capability, as the principles of its institution and preservation. (1.) Power rests on creation, and through that, upon the right of the dominion which God has over all created things, but especially over men. (Rom. xiii. 1, 2; John xix. 10, 11; Psalm xxiv. 1 Jeremiah xxvii. 2, 6.) (2.) The will of God, in its institution, is through four kinds of his love: (i.) His love of order among all created things; (1 Cor. xiv. 33;) (ii.) His love towards men themselves, both towards those who are placed in authority, above others, and especially towards those who are put in subjection; (2 Cor. ix. 8; 2 Kings xi. 17;) (iii.) His love of obedience to his own law; (Judges ii. 16, 17; 2 Chron. xxxiv. 31 32;) (iv.) His love of that submission which those who are equals by nature, render to others who are their superiors, merely through the will or good pleasure of God. (Psalm ii. 9, 12.) (3.) But Capability, and that of the highest kind, was likewise necessary for this purpose, both on account of that ambition of being eminent with which men are infected, and on account of the power or capability of an infinite multitude; and it is employed by God through an internal impression upon the hearts of men, of the necessity of this order, (1 Sam. x. 26; xi, 7,) and through the external defense of it. (Josh. i. 5-9.)
V. The end of the institution of magistracy, is the good of the whole, and of each individual of which it is composed, both an animal [or natural] good, "that they may lead quiet and peaceable lives;" (1 Tim. ii. 2;) and a spiritual good, that they may live in this world, to God, and may in heaven enjoy that good, to the glory of God who is its author. (Rom. xiii. 4.) For since man, according to his two-fold life, (that is, the animal and the spiritual,) stands in need of each kind of good, (Num. xi. 12, 13,) and is, by nature of the image of God, capable of both kinds; (Gen. i. 26; Col. iii. 10;) since two collateral powers cannot stand, (Matt. vi. 24; 1 Cor. xiv. 33,) and since animal good is directed to that which is spiritual, (Matt. vi. 33,) and animal life is subordinate to that which is spiritual, (Gal. ii. 20; 1 Cor. xv. 32,) it is unlawful to divide those two benefits, and to separate their joint superintendence, either in reality or by the administration of the supreme authority; for, if the animal life and its good become the only objects of solicitude, such an administration is that of cattle. But if human society be brought to such a condition that the spiritual life, only, prevails, then this power [of magistracy] is no longer necessary. (1 Cor. xv. 24.)
VI. The matter, of which this administration consists, are the acts necessary to produce that end. These actions, we comprehend in the three following classes: (1.) The first is Legislation, under which we also comprise the care of the moral law, according to both tables, and the enacting of subordinate laws with respect to places, times and persons, by which laws, provision may be the better made for the observance of that immovable law, and the various societies, being restricted to certain relations, may be the more correctly governed; that is, ecclesiastical, civil, scholastic and domestic associations. (Exod. xviii. 18-20; 2 Chron. xix. 6-8; 2 Kings xiii. 4, 5.) (2.) The second contains the vocation to delegated offices or duties, and the oversight of all actions and things which are necessary to the whole society. (Deut. i. 13, 15, 16; Exod. xviii. 21, 22; 1 Pet. ii. 14; 2 Chron. xix. 2, 8-11, Num. xi. 13-17.) (3.) The third is either the eradication of all evils out of the society, if they be internal, or the warding of them off, if they be external, even with war, if that be necessary, and the safety of society should require it. (Prov. xx. 26, 28; Psalm ci. 8; 1 Tim. ii. 2.)
VII. The form is the power itself, according to which these functions themselves are discharged, with an authority that is subject to God alone, and pre-eminently above whatever is human; (Rom. xiii. 1; Psalm lxxxii. 1, 6; Lament. iv. 20;) for this inspires spirit and life, and gives efficacy to these functions. It is enunciated "power by right of the sword," by which the good may be defended, and the bad terrified, restrained and punished, and all men compelled to perform their prescribed duties. (Rom. xiii. 4, 5.) To this power, as supreme, belongs the authority of demanding, from those under subjection, tribute, custom, and other burdens. These resemble the sinews, by which the authority and power necessary for these functions, are held together and established. (Rom. xiii. 6.)
VIII. But though there was no employment for this power before the introduction of sin into the world, because there were then only two human beings, both of whom were comprised in one family; yet we are of opinion, that it would also have had a place in the primitive integrity of mankind, and that it had not its origin from the entrance of sin; for we think this can be proved from the nature of man, who is a social animal, and was capable of deviating from his duty--from the limits of this power--from the causes which induced God to institute it--from the natural and moral law itself, and from the impression of this power on the hearts of men, provided any great number of men had been propagated prior to the commission of the first sin. (Gen. iii. 6; 1 Tim. ii. 1-iv, ; 1 Kings x. 9; Exod. xx. 12-17.)
IX. But this power is always the same according to the nature of its function and the prerogative of its authority; and it suffers no variation, either from the difference in number of those to whom this power is confided in a monarchy, an aristocracy, or a democracy, or from the difference of the manner in which this power is given, whether it be derived immediately from God, or it be obtained by human right and custom through succession, inheritance and election. Under all these circumstances, it remains the same, unless a limitation, restricted to certain conditions, be added by God, or by those who possess the right of conferring such a power. (Josh. xxii. 12; 1 Tim. ii. 2; 1 Pet. ii. 13; Judges 20; 1 Sam. xvi. 12; 2 Sam. 1; 1 Kings xi. 11, 12; xiv, 8-10.) And this limitation is equally binding on both parties; nor is it lawful for him who has accepted of this authority, by rescinding the conditions, to assume a greater power to himself, under the pretext that those conditions are opposed to his conscience or to his condition, and that they are even injurious to the society itself.
X. Since the end of this power is the good of the whole, or of the entire association of men, who belong to the same country or state, it follows that the prince of this state is less than the state itself, and that its benefit is not only to be preferred to his own, but that it is also to be purchased with his detriment, nay, at the expense of life itself. (Ezek. xxxiv. 2-4; 1 Sam. xii. 2, 3; viii, 20.) Though, in return, every member of the state is bound to defend, with all his powers, yet in a lawful manner, the life, safety and dignity of the prince, as the father of his country. (2 Sam. xvi. 3.)
XI. From the circumstance, also, of this power having been instituted by God and restricted within certain laws, we conclude that it is not lawful for him who possesses it, to lift up himself against God, to enact laws contrary to the divine laws, and either to compel the people who are committed to his care to the perpetration of acts which are forbidden by God, or to prevent them from performing such acts as he has commanded. If he acts thus, let him assuredly know, that he must render an account to God, and that the people are bound to obey the Almighty in preference to him. (Deut. xvii. 18, 19; 1 Kings xii. 28-30; xiii, 2; 1 Kings xxii. 5.) Yet, on this point, the people ought to observe two cautions: (1.) To distinguish actions which are to be performed, from burdens which are to be borne. (2.) To be perfectly sure that the orders of the prince are in opposition to the divine commands. Without a due observance of these cautions, they will, by a precipitate judgment, commit an act of disobedience against the prince, to whom, in that matter, they are able, in an orderly manner, under God, to be obedient.
XII. The functions which we have described as essential to this power, are not subject to the arbitrary will of the prince, whether he may neglect either the whole of them, or one of the three. If he act thus, he renders himself unworthy of the name of "prince;" and it would be a better course for him to resign the dignity of his office, than to be a trifling loiterer in the discharge of its functions. (Psalm lxxxii. 1-8; Ezek. xi. 1-13.) But here, also, a two-fold distinction must be used: (1.) Between a degree of idleness accruing from the function, and vice coming into it. (2.) Between loitering, and hindering these duties from being performed in the commonwealth; for the latter of these faults (hindrance) would bring speedy destruction to the society, while the commonwealth can consist with the former, (laziness,) provided other persons be permitted to perform those duties.
XIII. We conclude further, from the author of the institution from the end and the use of the office--from the functions which pertain to it, and from the pre-eminent power itself, when they are all compared with the nature of Christianity, that a Christian man can, with a good conscience, accept of the office and perform the duties of magistracy; nay, that no one is more suitable than he for discharging the duties of this office, and, which is still more, that no person can legitimately and perfectly fulfill all its duties except a Christian. Yet, by this affirmation, we do not mean to deny that a legitimate magistracy exists among other nations than those which are Christian. (Acts x. 31, 48; Exod. xviii. 20-23.)
XIV. Lastly. Because this power is pre eminent, we assert that every soul is subject to it by divine right, whether he be a layman or a clergyman, a deacon, priest, or bishop, an archbishop, cardinal, or patriarch, or even the Roman pontiff himself; so that it is the duty of every one to obey the commands of the magistrate, to acknowledge his tribunal, to await the sentence, and to submit to the punishment which he may award. From such obedience and subjection the prince himself cannot grant any man immunity and exemption; although in apportioning those burdens which are to be borne, he can yield his prerogative to some persons. (Rom. xiii. 1; 1 Pet. ii. 13; v, 1; John xix. 10, 11; Acts xxv. 1, 10; 1 Kings i. 26, 27; Rom. xiii. 5.)