Lex Rex [Law Is King, or The Law & The Prince] (1644)

Samuel Rutherford

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Whether or No the Place, Rom. 13:1, Prove That in No Case it Is Lawful to Resist the King

The special ground of royalists from Rom.13, against the lawfulness of defensive wars, is to make Paul (Rom. 13) speak only of kings. Hugo Grotius (de jure belli et pac. l. 1., c. 4, n. 6), and Barclay (cont. Monar. l. 3, c. 9) say, “Though Ambrose expound the place, Rom. 13, de solis regibus, of kings only, (this is false of kings only, he does not, but of kings principally,) yet it follows not that all magistrates, by this place, are freed from all laws, because (says he) there is no judge above a king on earth, and therefore he cannot be punished; but there is a judge above all inferior judges, and therefore they must be subject to laws.” So Dr Ferne follows him, (sect. 2, p. 10,) and our poor Prelate must be an accident to them, (Sacr. San. Maj. c. 2, p. 29,) for his learning cannot subsist per se.

Assert. 1. In a free monarchy (such as Scotland is known to be) by the higher power (Rom. 13) is the king principally in respect of dignity understood, but not solely and only, as if inferior judges were not higher powers.

    1st. I say in a free monarchy; for no man can say, that where there is not a king, but only aristocracy, and government by states, as in Holland, that there the people are obliged to obey the king; and yet this text, I hope, can reach the consciences of all Holland, that there every soul must be subject to the higher powers, and yet not a subject in Holland is to be subject to any king: for non entis nulla sunt accidentia.
    2nd. I said the king, in a free monarchy, is here principally understood in regard of dignity, but not in regard of the essence of a magistrate, because the essence of a magistrate does equally belong to all inferior magistrates, as to the king, as is already proved; (let the Prelate answer if he can;) for though some judges be sent by the king, and have from him authority to judge, yet this does no more prove that inferior judges are improperly judges, and only such by analogy, and not essentially, than it will prove a citizen is not essentially a citizen, nor a church-officer essentially a church-officer, nor a son not essentially a living creature, because the former have authority from the incorporation of citizens, and of church-officers, and the latter has his life by generation from his father, as God’s instrument. Foe though the citizen and the church-officers may be judged by their several incorporations that made them, yet are they also essentially citizens and church-officers, as those who made them such.

Assert. 2. — There is no reason to restrain the higher powers to monarchs only, or yet principally, as if they only were essentially powers ordained of God,

    1st. Because he calls them e0cousi/aiv u9perexou/saiv higher powers. Now this will include all higher powers, as Piscator observes on the place; and certainly Rome had never two or three kings to which every soul should be subject. If Paul had intended that they should have given obedience to one Nero, as the only essential judge, he would have designed him by the noun in the singular number.
    2nd. All the reasons that the apostle brings to prove that subjection is due, agrees to inferior judges as well as to emperors, for they are powers ordained of God, and they bear the sword, and we must obey them for conscience sake, and they are God’s deputies, and their judgment is. not the judgment of men, but of the Lord (2 Chron. 19:6-7; Deut. 1:16; Numb. 11:16, 17). Tribute and wages be no less due to them, as ministers and servants, for their work, than to the king, etc.
    3rd. The apostle could not omit obedience to the good civil laws enacted by the senate, nor could he omit to command subjection to rulers, if the Romans should change the government, and abolish monarchy, and erect their ancient form of government before they had kings.
    4th. This is canonical Scripture, and a clear exposition of the fifth commandment, and so must reach the consciences of all Christian republics, where there is no monarchy.
    5th. Parallel places of Scripture prove this. Paul (1 Tim. 2:1-2) will have prayers made to God for kings, and for all that are in authority, and the intrinsical end of all is a godly, honest, and peaceable life. And (1 Pet. 2:13) “Submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake;” also, (Tit. 3:1,) it is true, subjection to Nero, of whom Tertullian said, (Apol. 5,) Nihil nisi grande bonum a Nerone damnation, is commanded here, but to Nero as such a one as he is obliged, de jure, to be, (whether you speak of the office in abstracto, or of the emperor in concreto, in this notion, to me it is all one,) but that Paul commands subjection to. Nero, and that principally and solely, as he was such a man, de facto, I shall then believe, when antiChristian prelates turn Paul’s bishops, (1 Tim. 2,) which is a miracle.
    6th. Interior judges are not necessarily sent by the king, by any divine law, but chosen by the people, as the king is; and, de facto, is the practice of creating all magistrates of cities in both kingdoms.
    7th. Augustine, (expos, prop. 72 on epist. Rom.,) Irenaeus, (1. 5, c. 24;) Chrysostom, (in Psal. 148, and on the place,) and Hieron. (epist. 53, advers. vigilant.) expound it of masters, magistrates; so do Calvin, Beza, Pareus, Piscator, Rollocua, Marloratus; so do popish writers, Aquinas, Lyra, Hugo Cardinalis, Carthusius, Pirerius, Toletus, Cornelius à Lapide, Salmeron, Estius, expound the place; and therefore there is no argument that royalists hence draw against resisting of the king by the parliaments, but they do strongly conclude against the cavaliers’ unlawful wars against the parliaments and estates of two kingdoms.

Here what the P. Prelate says to the contrary. 1. They are called eminent powers; therefore, kings only. —

Ans. It follows not, for these can be no other than pa/ntev oi9 e0n u9peroxh|~ o0nte\v, (1 Tim. 2:2). But these are not kings, but in the text contradivided from basilei~j kings, and they can be no other than a0rxai/ kai e0cousi/ai principalities and powers.1 2. The reason of the apostle proves clearly that e0cousi/ai cannot mean king’s only, for Paul adds of that same e0cousi/a “For there is no power but of God.” It must be there is no supereminent royal power, but it is of God, and the powers only (so he must mean) that be, are ordained of God. Now the latter is manifestly false, for inferior powers are of God. The powers of the Roman senate, of a master, of a father, are of God.2

P. Prelate. — “Peter must expound Paul, and Paul’s higher powers must be (1 Pet. 2) basilei~j u9pere/xontej More reason that Paul expound Paul. Now (1 Tim. 2:2) pa/ntev oi9 e0n u9peroxh|~ o0nte\v, All in authority are not kings. P. Prelate. — “Are of God,” or “ordained of God,” cannot so properly be understood of subordinate powers, for that is not by immediate derivation from God, but immediately from the higher power the king, and mediately from God.

Ans. 1. — It is most false that king David is so immediately a king from God, as that he is not also by the mediation of the people, who made him king at Hebron. 2. The inferior magistrates are also immediate vicars and ministers of God as the king, for their throne and judgment is not the king’s, but the Lord’s (Deut. 1:16; 2 Chron. 21:6). 3. Though they were mediately from man, it follows not that they are not so properly from God, for wisdom (Prov. 8) says as properly, (ver. 16,) “By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth;” as, (ver. 15,) “By me kings reign;” and promotion is as properly from God, and not from the east and the west, (Psal. 75:6-7,) though God promote Joseph, by the thankful munificence of Pharaoh, and Mordecai by Ahasuerus, Daniel by Darius, as if he gave them power and honor immediately from heaven.

P. Prelate. — Learned interpreters expound it so. —

Ans. It is an untruth, for none expound it only and principally of kings. Produce one Interpreter for that conceit.

P. Prelate. — Paul wrote this when Nero was monarch. —

Ans. 1. Then must the text be expounded of Nero only. 2. He wrote this when Nero played the tyrant and persecuted Christians, therefore we are not to obey Neroes now. 3. He wrote it when the senate of Rome had power to declare Nero an enemy, not a father, as they did.

P. Prelate. — ei0 must be referred to the antecedent e0cousi/aiv u9perexou/saiv and this, “There is no power ei0 mh\ but of God,” must undeniably infer there is no supreme power but of God; and so, sovereignty relates to God as his immediate author, so sectaries reason, Gal. 2:16, “Not justified by works, (e0a/n mh\) but by faith only.” Then ei0 mh\ u9po\ qeou~~ must be a perfect exclusive, else their stronghold for justification is overthrown. —

Ans. ei0 has a nearer antecedent, which is e0cousi/a it is alone without u9pere/xousa. And this grammar is not so good as Beza’s, which he rejected. 2. e0a/n mh\ will refer to God alone as the only cause, in genere causa primae. God alone gives rain, but not for that immediately, but by the mediation of vapors and clouds. “God alone kills and makes alive,” Deut. 32:39, that is, excluding all strange gods, but not immediately; for, by his people’s fighting, he slew Og, king of Bashan, and cast out seven nations, yet they used bow and sword, as it is used in the book of Joshua; and, therefore, God killed not Og immediately. God has an infinite, eminent, transcendent way of working, so that in his kind he only works his alone; Deus solus operatur solitudine primae causae, non solus solitudine omnis causae, God only gives learning and wisdom, yet not immediately always — often he does it by teaching and industry. God only makes rich, yet the prelates make themselves rich also with the fat of the flock; and God only makes poor, yet the P. Prelate’s courts, mediately also under God, made many men poor. 3. e0a/n mh is not such an exclusive particle when we ascribe it to God, as when we ascribe it to two created causes, works and faith; and the protestants’ form of arguing (Gal. 2), to prove “we are justified by faith,” he calls our stronghold, therefore it is not his stronghold. In this point, then, he must be a papist, and so he refuses to own protestant strongholds for justification by faith alone.

Dr Ferne (sect. 2, p. 10). — As many as have souls must be subject to the higher powers spoken of here; but all inferior judges have souls.

Ans. — 1st. If the word souls be thus pressed, none shall be understood by higher powers, but the king only.

    2nd. Certainly he that commands as he commands must be excepted, except, because the king has a soul, you must subject the king to himself and to his own commandments royal, and so to penal laws.
    3rd. Inferior judges, as judges, by this text, must either be subject to themselves as judges, (and, by the same reason, the king must be subject to himself, as he is a judge,) or judges, as men, or as erring men are to be subject; which I would grant, but they are not subject as judges, no more than one, as he commands, can also obey as he commands. These are contradictory. I am not put off that opinion since I was at school, species subjicibilis qua subjicibilis non est praedicabilis.
    4th. If Nero make fathers rulers over their mothers and children, and command them, by this public sword of justice, to kill their own children and mothers, — if a senate of such fathers disobey, and if, with the sword, they defend their own children and mothers, which some other Doegs, as judges, are to kill, in the name and commandment of Nero, then they, resisting Nero’s bastard commandment by this doctrine, resist the ordinance of God, and resist the minister of God.

I have not a faith stretched out so far to the Prelate’s court-divinity. Yet Ferne says, “There was never more cause to resist higher powers, for their wicked Nero was emperor, when he now forbids resistance, (Rom. 13) under the pain of damnation.” I desire to be informed, whether to resist the king’s servants, be to resist the king? Dr Ferne (p. 3, sect. 2, p. 10, and part 3, sect. 9, p. 59) allows us, in unavoidable assaults where death is imminent, personal defense without offending, as lawful, whether the king or his emissaries invade, without law or reason. Well, then, the resisting of the king’s cutthroats, though they have a personal command of the king to kill the innocent, yet if they want a legal, is no resisting of the king, as king, for the servant has no more than the master gives; but the king, in lawless commandments, gave nothing royal to his cut-throats, and so nothing legal.


     1.    Vatab. — Homines intelligit publica authoritate praeditus.
     2.    P. Martyr. — Varia sunt potestatum genera — regna, aristocratica, politica, tyrannica, oligarchica — Deus etiam illorum author. Willet says the same, and so Beza, Tolet., Hammond, etc.