Edmund Calamy: Magistrate, Keeper of the First Table

Edmund Calamy (February 1600 – October 29, 1666) was an English Presbyterian church leader and divine. Known as “the elder”, he was the first of four generations of nonconformist ministers bearing the same name.

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


“Lastly, it is your duty (Right Honourable) whom God hath betrusted with great power, to suppress these divisions and differences in Religion by your Civil Authority, as far as you are able, lest you be accessory to them. For God hath made you Custodes utriusque tabulae, Keepers not of the second Table only, (as some fondly imagine) but of the first Table also, and not only keepers, but Vindices utriusq; Tabulae, Punishers also of those that transgress against either of them. For you are the Ministers of God for good, and revengers to execute wrath upon him that doth evil. Rom. 13: 4. And God hath deputed you for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well. 1 Pet. 2:19… There are some that would blot out half your commission, and restrain this Good and Evil to civil good and to evils only against men. But this is against that General Rule, Non est distguendum ubi lex non distinguit. Where the Law doth not distinguish, there must not we distinguish. Tell me I beseech you, Shall it be lawful for Magistrates to punish those that destroy men’s bodies, but not those that destroy men’s souls? Shall they be blamed for suffering men to draw people away from obedience to the Laws of the land and to themselves, and not also for suffering men to draw away people from the truth of the Gospel, and from the way of God, such as Hymenaeus and Philetus, who overthrow the faith of some, and their words eat as a Canker? Shall Christian Magistrates take up the Maxime of Tiberius, Decorum iniurias Diis curae esse? Let God himself take care to vindicate himself from injuries committed against God? As for me, I will (just like Gallio) take care of none of these things. Can Christian ears endure such language? Doth not God prophecy, Isaiah 49:23. That in the New Testament Kings shall be our nursing Fathers, and Queens our nursing Mothers? And how can a Christian Magistrate discharge that duty aright if he hath not power from God to punish those that would poison the souls of his weak children with heresies, and soul-destroying opinions? I do not deny, but that there is great wisdom to be observed by Magistrates in distinguishing between persons and person, between errors and errors. Some persons are pious and peaceable, others turbulent and furious. Some errors are such, as subvert the faith, and destroy the power of Godliness: others are of lesser nature, which may consist with the power of Godliness, and with an unity in the faith. But that which I now speak against, is that unbounded liberty that is pleaded for in divers books lately written, which hold forth this prodigious Tenet. That every man is to be suffered to have the liberty of his conscience, be it never so Heretical or Idolatrical. This overthroweth all the power of the Magistrate in punishing heresy, blasphemy, Idolatry, and is contrary to many plain texts of the Old Testament, and to those of the New Testament above mentioned (2 Chron. 15:13; 2 Chron. 34:32; Ezra 10:8; Deut. 13:5-6; 2 Kings 23:1)


Object. Will you allow the Magistrate to Tyrannize over men’s consciences.


Answ. By no means. But I believe it is the duty of Magistrates to keep men from infecting their Subjects with soul-destroying errors. If thou has an Heretical opinion, have it to thy self, and the Magistrate will not; nay, cannot meddle with thy private conscience. But if thou labourest to infect others with thy grace-destroying opinion. I doubt not but the Magistrate is bound to keep thee form spreading thy infection to the undoing of the souls of his Subjects…”


Edmund Calamy, An Indictment Against England because of her self-murdering divisions: together with an exhortation to an England-preserving unity and concord. Presented in a sermon preach before the Right Honourable House of Lords in the Abby church at Westminster; at the late solemne fast, December 25. 1644 (London: Printed by I.L for Christopher Meredith, 1645) 37-38. Wing C256
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