William Reyner: The Magistrate to Prevent Idolatry

William Reyner (Rayner) was an English Divine that served from 1643-1652 on the Westminster Assembly.

This excerpt is taken from the 5th Edition of the Confessional Presbyterian.

“Execute judgement for God, every one as far as his power will stretch. First, do judgement upon thine own self for thy sin in all ways of godly revenge, as by Fasting &c. Sing mercy and judgment to thy family, as David Psa. 101. Do thy best that judgement that hath been turned to wormwood and hemlock, may run down like a mighty stream, in publique; and where thy hand cannot reach a blow, or cast a stone at an idolater, blasphemer, persecutor, &c. let thy heart at least do it. For If a man’s consenting to, or approving of an act of injustice may inguilt him, as I may say, in it as it was with the Jews, whose state was ruined for killing Christ and the Prophets, though most part of them had never seen any of them Matt. 23.37. why may not a man’s executing judgement, with his heart, when he can proceed no further, be accepted, in respect of him, for an act of justice, by him that is pleased both in good and evil actions, to accept the will for the deed?

This duty principally incumbent upon the Magistrate, who is to execute judgement of the Lord, not arbitrarily as himself pleaseth; but according to the rule of the Word, both for matter and manner.

1.For the matter man hath no warrant either to leave gross and horrid sins unpunished in the committers of them; such as are the ring leaders in idolatry and persecution; nor yet to commute or change the nature of the punishment. As (by the way) I question, whether a pecuniary mulct [i.e. fine], especially if it be alone, be a proper punishment for a swearer, or blasphemer; but it rather ought to be personal. And here I cannot choose but with grief take notice of a miserable failing in our first reformation that the Mass priests were suffered still to continue in the places; for he that had said or sung Mass the last Lord’s day (and if he were a Preacher had Preacher for Popery) if he would but take the new Oath of Supremacy and read the Service-Book this Lord’s day, was accounted a sufficient reformist, and admitted to the Ministry. So that of twenty thousand Prelates and Priest at least in England and Ireland, very few were cast out of their places and scarce any of them (unless it were [Bishop Edmund] Boner) for any thing they had done. Oh woeful! (I confess I think the State did then want due information of that point). But this hath been one thing that hath undone the Church, viz. those that have all along and do still infest the Church. I mean the wicked and superstitious Clergy being their natural, genuine and proper posterity. Let not such a sin therefore lie any longer upon the State; out (therefore worthy Senators) with all the generation of erroneous Teachers, Altar-worshippers &c. and prophane ones, that have made so many abhor the Offerings of the Lord. If any Object, that the Church will then be destitute of Pastors. I answer: I know no warrant at all that there is to put or keep such Wolves among God’s flock. Secondly, that a thousand or two of godly and able men well distributed, if the other were out, might by God’s blessing doe more good by far, then now do all the Ministers of England.

Nay, I take it to be an absolute duty of them that have power to eject them, (besides, what may be said otherwise) even by the equity and analogy of that Text, Ezek. 44.10,12,13. The Levites that are gone away far from me, which went astray from me after their idols, they shall even bear their iniquity; because they ministred unto them before their idols, and caused the house of Israel to fall into iniquity, therefore have I lifted up my hand against them, saith the Lord God (i.e. I have sworn against them as most high transgressors, and so will not reverse it) and they shall bear their iniquity. And they shall not come near unto me, to do the office of a Priest unto me, not to come near to any of my holy things in the most holy place: but they shall bear their shame, and their abominations which they have committed.

Besides punishments should be aggravated according to the aggravation of the sin or sins. The most capital offender can but be put to death; but when the guilt is transcendently heinous, it ought to be with such circumstances and expressions, as may make it appear that the Judge or Magistrate hath a due sense of that heinousness , and would reach it in the punishment, if it were possible. All Israel were to stone Achan, and to raise over him a great heap of stones, Jos. 7.25.26. Now if this be so, I wonder what punishment will be found out suitable to the crimes of some malefactors now in question, who have wickedly endeavoured to seduce many whole Kingdoms quite to suppress and extinguish true Religion in them (if not throughout the world) who have proudly trampled upon all laws and estates, being undoubtedly, if all things were laid together, of the greatest if not absolutely the greatest transgressors that ever were since men were upon the earth.

For the Manner, the Word requires that judgement be executed with the spirit of justice or judgement; of which the Text speaks Isa. 28.6. In hatred of sin, love of God, Zeal for his glory, as Phenehas did; otherwise, if you punish a Malefactor with death, who hath deserved it instead of taking away an old murder, you add a new and shall be punished accordingly, judgement ought to return to justice, Psa. 94.15.

We have two remarkable examples in the Scriptures worthy to be taken notice of by all that are in authority, of two Kings that were both rewarded and punished for the very same thing.

Baasha destroyed Nadab and the house of Jeroboam, Jehu destroyed Jehoram, Jezabel and the whole house of Ahab; both of them had the Kingdom of Israel for the pains; and yet for these very acts, both their Families and Posterities were destroyed. Baasha because he killed him, viz. Nadab, 1 Kin. 16.7. and so I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, saith the Lord, Hos. 1.4. And so it came to pass, as may be seen in both their Histories; What was the cause, was there equity in this? Yes: the thing done was just, to punish these idolatrous Families; but the manner of doing it utterly displeased God, because it was not done in the love of justice, &c. and so in respect of God; but out of spleen and ambition to get the Kingdome: That it was not done by either of them as an act of justice appeared, in that they both continued in the sins of Jeroboam, which they seemed to punish, 1 Kin. 15.34. 2 Kin. 10.29. For that Magistrate or man that lives openly in the sin he punisheth in another, cannot do it as an act of justice, and so doth not please God; not to speak of this, that he that punisheth one sin, as suppose theft, because God would have it punished, and so doth it as an act of justice, will also for the very same reason punish another sin as much or more odious to God, as blasphemy, swearing, idolatry, if his arm be strong enough and long enough to reach the Offenders, which very thing may put (I fear) some suspicion sometimes upon our publique justice, in matter of theft, &c. and makes it questionable, whether it be done out of right principles, as because it is sin against God, and punishable by his Word, or only because man is trespassed or no; which if it be so, the very laws herein ought to be reformed.”

William Reyner, Babylon’s ruining-earthquake and the restoration of Zion. Delivered in a sermon before the Honourable House of Commons at

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