Of Evangelical and Natural Duties

Michael Hudson on the Religious Role of Christian Kings

We began a summary of Michael Hudson’s lengthy work on Divine Right of Government here. Now, we continue and finish that assessment with coverage of Hudson’s view of the religious role of Christian magistrates. On this, Hudson exhibits continuity and general agreement with his Protestant forebears and contemporaries but simultaneously advocates for a more tolerant and, therefore, somewhat more limited exercise of civil authority on matters of religion. To begin:

“[I]t is both lawfull and expedient for Kings to exercise both their Legislative power in composure of Lawes and Statutes, for directing a laudable conformity amongst these persons in the religious observation and practise of these Evangelicall, and supernaturall duties, of the Religion and piety whereof they are already sufficiently perswaded and satisfied in their consciences: and also their Judiciary power, in punishing the contempt or neglect thereof.”

The magistrate should make sure people are acting in conformity with their professed religion, the predominant religion of the nation. To reiterate,  

“Christian Kings may exercise their Legislative power in the composure of Lawes and Statutes, to direct a conformity of Evangelicall worship and service in those persons, unto whom God hath vouchsafed the true understanding thereof, and thereby satisfied their consciences of the Legality and Religion thereof: and also his Judiciarie power, in rewarding the pious and due observance, and punishing the impious contempt and neglect of such duties in the same persons; But may not exercise either his Legislative or Judiciary power, to prescribe Laws for to enforce the practise of such duties upon other persons, to whom God hath not vouchsafed that understanding & knowledge concerning these duties.”

Hudson adds,

“Kings and Magistrates are, or at least wise ought to be most diligent in the reformation and punishment of offences, which immediately concerne God and Religion; because the promotion of Gods honour, worship, and service, is the principall part of the office and calling of Kings and Magistrates.”


“All Externall duties prescribed in the foure last precepts of the first Table of the Morall Law, are directly and properly of Politicall Cognizance; so that the King may lawfully exercise his Legislative power in the composure of Lawes and Statutes, for direction of honour, worship, and service, both to God and himselfe, and that concerning both publike and private acts of honour and worship, whether of the body, or of the tongue: and here the disposall and ordering of our estates, (i.e., the bona fortunae, as well as bona corporis) must be presupposed to be directly of the same cognizance, and to pertaine to the same power. For Solomon commands to honour the Lord with our substance, Prov. 3.9. and God ordained parents and Kings to be his instruments in the impartment of these outward blessings of fortune, as well as the blessings of the body, unto their children and subjects: and therefore it is lawfull for them to command in the one as well as the other, in order to all outward duties.”

There is no doubt in Hudson’s mind that the full decalogue—both tables—refers to or is cognizable under external behavior and, therefore, political authority. These things are not housed under “evangelical duties.” And, to be sure, the scope of “religion” here is Christianity. The magistrate is to be sensible of and sensitive toward the predominant denomination in his realm. This sensibility, however, does not preclude reform on his part, as will become clear. That said, there is a sense in which the logic of State v. Chandler (1837) wherein the court reasoned that the common law must recognize and respect the religion of the people albeit, again, Hudson’s recognition would not be as expansive as that nineteenth century Delaware court.

Thus far, Hudson speaks of things in every way regal (omnimodò Regalia). But what of things that are in between, partially regal and partially non or “extra” regal (partìm Regalia)? And then, things fully extra-regal (omnimodò extra-regalia)?  

“No Evangelicall ceremonies or formes of worship, nor any Ecclesiasticall Government or Discipline which relateth unto Christ, is directly, and per se of Politicall Cognizance, but onely indirectly, and per accidens. And therefore the King cannot lawfully enact any Lawes or Statutes concerning these matters, which shall be generally obligatory unto all persons within his Dominions; but onely unto such persons whom God hath enlightned by his spirit, and thereby satisfied their consciences of the lawfulnesse and Religion of such Worship, Government, and Discipline.”

This is basically the circa sacra v. in sacra distinction but gets again at what we can call civil confirmation of the laws and practice of worship established by the church itself and her clergy. The civil magistrate cannot independently create a church out of whole cloth, but he can offer support and upkeep, so to speak, for what has been created by the clergy—to be clear, the “enlightened” persons does not evoke a populist, voluntarist evangelicalism. This is another way of saying that the magistrate supports, defends, and, if need be, reforms the church even as he does not possess the keys of the kingdom. Standard stuff. And, as John Norton explained best, the object or target of reform, the goal for more aggressive intervention, is a sort of last pristine point of the church. Even in this, it is expected that clerical advice and inspiration will be behind reforms. The ceremonies an forms primarily in view above are those relating directly to supernatural matters and competence, not things of indifference or convenience.

More should be said about Hudson’s treatment of the collective conscience. He writes,

“if the Magistrate shall by any Law or Statute compell men to practise those Ceremonies or Formes of worship, concerning the Religion and lawfulnesse whereof they are not satisfied in their consciences, hee doth compell them to sinne, and thereby render himselfe guilty of that damnation, which Paul affirmeth to be the merits of all injuries done to the conscience.”

Hudson distinguishes between the reforms of the godly kings of Judah and those of Christian magistrates, not as to the general duty of magistrates but as to the scope of what he calls sacramental reform (i.e., worship). In the former case, Old Testament kings had at their disposal a detailed account in Scripture of ecclesiastical forms, discipline, and government. They had a clear roadmap, “so that when these Kings did exercise their Judiciary power concerning these Jewish rites, it was onely in pursuance of the law of God, which made these duties generally obligatory unto that Nation.” That is, Israel’s kings did nothing but what all kings must do; its just that they had more mandatory instruction in that regard. The role has not change with the advent of the Messiah, but those old ceremonial and disciplinary injunctions have.

Christian kings, the latter case, lack such specific guidance and mandate. What may surprise readers is how much Hudson emphasizes the conscience and the internal-external distinction. On these points he and Baxter are in obvious disagreement. Both, of course, affirmed that civil authority cannot actually affect the conscience directly, meaning it cannot force belief and nor should it aspire to.

But whereas Baxter was a proponent of what I’ve called coercive conditions conducive to conversion, and therefore refused Decalogue bifurcation—he was a First Tabularian, as Jonathan Leeman calls it—in step with the lion’s share of his contemporaries, Hudson commits that very bifurcation, in his own way, at least regarding the first commandment.

In treating the things fully extra-regal (omnimodò extra-regalia), Hudson expresses a broad toleration:

“No internall duties prescribed in the first Commandement of the Morall Law, doe either directly or indirectly fall within the sphere of Politicall cognizance, so that the King cannot lawfully exercise either his Legislative or Judiciarie power in matters of faith and doctrine; nor by any positive Lawes and Statutes, determine what points shall be Orthodox, and what Hereticall: neither may he under the sanction of any personall, or pecuniarie mulct, or penalty, enjoyne his Subjects to professe and sweare such Creeds, and Articles of Faith and Religion, as those Lawes shall make Orthodox: or by virtue of those Lawes punish any of his Subjects, who out of conscience doe professe themselves of another different Faith and Religion.”

Hudson operates with a strong natural-spiritual divide. That which is generated by human parents (i.e., the body) is directly under political cognizance. That which is generated directly by God (i.e., the soul) is not.

What of Romans 13:1, let every soul be subject to the higher powers? Hudson says this is a command to the subject, not a communication of the king’s power. Subjects are supposed to obey not out of hypocrisy but as unto God, who the king represents. But it doesn’t mean the king has purview over souls or can command the soul. Apostolic, not kingly, authority is over souls; it is the former’s job to correct and reform faith and doctrine. There is no Scriptural duty for kings to preach the Gospel or instruct in doctrine or save souls.

How does Hudson deal with Isaiah 49:23 (i.e., nursing fathers)? Typically, all things considered and his cordoning off of the first commandment above.

“now a Nurse you know doth not beget a child, but onely protect and nourish it, after it is both begotten and borne. And such a power indeed, a Christian King may, and ought to exercise over his Subjects; that is, after they are begotten and borne children of the Faith and Church of Christ, by the preaching of the Gospell; he both may and ought to use his power to protect them from the wolvish enemies of Christs Church, and to nourish them by gracious expresses of his Royall favour. But I cannot finde any warrant for the King in that Text, to enact any Lawes or Statutes, to compell men of another Faith and Religion to become such as himselfe, or to punish them that will not; nor can I beleeve it to be any part of his commission or calling.”

Can the king enact uniformity on matters of faith and doctrine?

“I deny not but the Magistrate both may, and ought to exercice his power for the restraine and punishment of those divisions, (which are the fruits and effects of these erroneous and Hereticall opinions,) when they come to be of Politicall Cognizance […] violence and injustice, disturbing the peace of the Common-wealth; but the errours themselves which are the causes and productives of these mischiefes in State, are not at all of Politicall, but of another higher Cognizance.”

But only at the point of civil disruption or discord can the magistrate step in. He certainly cannot force profession of creeds or confessions by those who do not believe them for it would be an offense against conscience, making the magistrate an “accessory” to perjury and an intruder upon “sacred prerogatives.”

To review, per Hudson, the magistrate cannot dictate doctrine or worship; he cannot determine the content of heresy; he cannot require by force assent to credal items; but he can support and defend the church according to her judgment of these things; he can put down notorious heresies and errors when they disturb the peace. Christian kings are like the Jewish kings as to their general role, but differ insofar as the Old Testament supplied with more exactitude the forms or worship and discipline to be applied to the nation. Since these things are now determined largely by the judgment and experience of the church, the magistrate cannot himself dictate their expression. (Hudson was obviously not a regulatory principle of worship kind of guy, obviously.) Hudson maintains a fairly broad, conscience-sensitive toleration, and is repeatedly insistent that the secular power cannot impress articles of doctrine upon people if they do not already believe it—the scale or scope on this point is not always clear but it does seem to sometimes have the individual citizen in view.

And, again, Hudson is heavy on the natural-spiritual divide vis a vis the king’s command. This recalls, as an illustrative example, James I/VI’s defense of the Oath of Allegiance both in his Apologie and Premonition. Repeatedly, the monarch insisted that the Oath was not designed for “intrapping of Papists in points of Conscience.” “So carefull was I that nothing should be contained in this Oath, except the profession of natural Allegiance, and civil and temporall obedience, with a promise to resist to all contrary uncivill violence.”

The Oath only required fealty to the temporal laws and authority of England, said King James, not any points of religion. Of course, this natural or temporal point at issue was whether popes could depose kings. Catholics were inclined, indeed required, to believe they could. In this example, we see not only the major source of Reformation-era contention—perhaps the source of contention, per Baxter—but also, at this point, a distinctly Protestant conviction, viz., the re-elevation of the civil magistrate to his proper religious role, circa sacra, as national reformer, and an instance of those things partially regal and partially extra-regal. Papal supremacy was not recognized by the Church of England and, therefore, was not a point of doctrine intruded on by James. Moreover, were it a point of doctrine, its manifestation or expression had risen to the level of political cognizance as a matter of civil peace (i.e., the Gunpowder Plot).

Hudson addresses the papist issue directly too, beyond the debate over papal supremacy. To repeat, a magistrate cannot dictate doctrine or worship and he cannot “cudgel” a man into right belief of either. What of punishing idolatry per the second commandment (and Romans 1)?

Hudson, again, is fairly tolerant. Idolatrous worship can be a sin of the will or of the understanding, he says. As to the will,

“when the errour and obliquity doth proceed either from a wicked lewdnesse, or else from a perverse and wilfull negligence; and such were all the Idolatries of the Isralites, because God himselfe had published Lawes and Statutes for the information of their understandings in that point; the Justice and Religion whereof was not disputable, because they were immediately from God: And therefore, these Idolatries were punishable in the Israelites, because they did proceed from the errour and obliquity of the wilt; the Reformation whereof, is indeed the very absolute and adaequate end of all punishments, and of the exercise of all Politicall power.”

On the other hand, given, as mentioned above, that the form of worship and ceremony is no longer explicitly dictated by Scripture in the New Testament, the idolatry of the papists is an idolatry of understanding, not willful lewdness: “the Idolatry principally intended by that Law to be punished in the Israelites, was the worship of an Idolatrous object, (as appears, Deut. 13.) whereof the Papists are no wayes guilty, (for they worship the same God in the Unity of Essence, and Trinity of Persons, which the Protestants doe.)”

Many of Hudson’s contemporaries would have disagreed sharply, to be sure. In any case, to round out Hudson’s theory such as it is,

“seeing punishments were never ordained for the Information of the understanding, but meerly for the Reformation of the will;) it cannot be just nor equitable in Magistrates, to punish the errours and obliquities of Papists, or any other Idolaters, (which have their foundation and ground in the understanding,) till first their understanding be rightly informed, and themselves convinced of the errour of their wayes.”

The reform of the understanding of doctrine and worship is the purview of the church. At what point a subject would be deemed sufficiently educated for their public obstinance to rise to the level of political cognizance is unclear. Presumably, Hudson would insist that some kind of civil interest would be required for the magistrate to act. The bottom line is that because papists are Trinitarian and because the New Testament does not prescribe forms of worship, said forms are a thing not quite of indifference but certainly of tolerance, which is not to deny that a true position exists. And because the magistrate does not have clear Scriptural guidance on forms of worship he cannot enforce any particular form against the consciences of his citizens. And yet, he can, it seems, address cases where people are not living according to their own profession.

There is much continuity between Hudson and others sixteenth and seventeenth century Protestant commentators, but he does somewhat complicate the prospect of a strong English establishment, which is somewhat surprising given his staunch monarchical leanings. That said, Hudson does seem to simply be trying to make sense of the post-Elizabethan establishment. He is conscience-sensitive and tolerant. He maintains a sort of soft-Constantinianism wherein the Christian king supports the church and her adherents at a national scale according to her own teachings, defending her from civil threats, whilst allowing broad latitude for non-conformists and dissenters.

In this way, Hudson, at least in his particular (very lengthy) expression, may represent a more establishmentarian-lite wing of distinctly late seventeenth century English variety that more aggressive establishmentarians like Baxter still respected. At the same time, he introduces, in my view, more deference on the part of the Christian king to the church. In this way, the foregoing two-part review of Hudson’s main work helps flesh out the political spectrum of that period.  

Image Credit: The Surprise Coronation of Charlemagne on Christmas Day, 800 C.E. in Chroniques de France ou de Saint Denis, c. 1310

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Timon Cline

Timon Cline is the Editor in Chief at American Reformer. He is an attorney and a fellow at the Craig Center at Westminster Theological Seminary and the Director of Scholarly Initiatives at the Hale Institute of New Saint Andrews College. His writing has appeared in the American Spectator, Mere Orthodoxy, American Greatness, Areo Magazine, and the American Mind, among others. He writes regularly at Modern Reformation and Conciliar Post.

One thought on “Of Evangelical and Natural Duties

  1. The response I have for Cline’s article is, ‘So What?’ So what that Hudson is defining a post Apostolic times position of the Christian King? Why is what Hudson said so long ago important today especially when we consider the contextual differences between Hudson’s time and ours?

    It’s important to Cline because Cline wants to see at least a partial return to the times of Hudson. Cline prefers monarchy to Democracy. That is because he prefers authoritarianism with inequality to democracy with equality. Cline might not see his preference fitting into that particular choice because he might be blinded by the leanings of his own personal faith in Christ. For many of us religiously conservative Christians have a penchant for authoritarianism. That stems from an over generalization of all of the authority structures that we, as Christians, are told to submit to. And perhaps some of us want everyone else to be subject to as many authority structures that we are told to submit ourselves to because, as the old saying goes, ‘misery loves company.’

    Perhaps before Cline talks about how tolerant Hudson’s version of government would be, he should run that by unbelievers. He should especially run it by unbelievers who have some knowledge of the Scriptures. For some of them might remind him that Jesus warned his disciples against ‘lording it over others.’ And ‘lording it over others’ is exactly what Hudson’s version of government would have Christians to do not just to unbelievers, but even to some fellow believers.

    We should note from Erich Fromm that authoritarianism is a fear response. That both active authoritarians (authoritarian leaders) and passive authoritarians (their followers) have, in many cases, developed a co-dependent relationship with each other where they gain their significance by relieving their fears of alienation through an authoritarian relationship. That their embrace of authoritarianism is due to their inability to tolerate independence and freedom in both themselves and others. And here we should note that Fromm’s study of and thinking about authoritarianism, like others from the Frankfurt School, was in response to the acceptance of and loyalty to the Nazi regime exhibited by the German people during the 1930s and 1940s.

    Certainly Fromm is not speaking from any studies of the New Testament here. But he is speaking from observation. And we, as Christians who are taught to submit to many authority structures, can learn from Fromm that there is a difference between how we should respond both to different authority figures in our lives from authoritarianism and to God and His word from how we should respond to people.

    In bringing up why Fromm studied and thought about authoritarianism I am not comparing Cline and those whose writings he admires with the Hitler and the Nazis. For authoritarianism can come in many different flavors. But perhaps Cline’s vying for authoritarian rule and adherence to people like Hudson is because Cline’s fear of people, including himself, being independent and living in freedom. After all, look at what the limited freedom that we have has produced in society. And who knows where the ‘anything goes’ mantra will take not just our society, but the Church as well. Nevertheless, we Christians need to distinguish between biblically living under authority structures and authoritarianism. For the past authoritarianism that was so much a part of Christendom has helped give birth to Critical Theory and Post Modernism, which are the rebellious children to what Cline is vying for but are based on observation.

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