John (the Steadfast), Elector of Saxony

[This translation from the German by Christopher S. Doerr originally appeared in the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. 109, No. 1 (Winter 2012) Walther’s original appeared in Lehre und Wehre V. 9 (1863) pp. 303-305, V. 10 pp. 15-19]

XXIII. About Secular Government

1. Initially the governmental dignity belonged to the family heads, but as a result of the increase of the human race it was transferred to specific predetermined persons. (Kromayer)

2. When a kingdom is first established, its authority and power must be arranged according to natural law and according to the way that law is put into practice in their nation. (Gerhard)

3. The contributing causes which impart governmental dignity to a successor, as many modes as there are of acquiring that dignity, by inherited succession, vote, compact, conquest in just wars, or even by lot, neither change the inherent nature of governmental power nor take anything away from the divine origin of that power. (Scherzer)

4. Power refers to something actual, irrespective of the legal basis for how that power was first acquired. (ibid.)

5. If prescriptive laws should not carry any weight, what kingdom will then be considered lawful? (Dannhauer)

6. The same authority that Constantine gave the Christians, Julian the Apostate also gave. (Augustine)

7. The necessity for subjects to obey is not by virtue of an authority that people are free to set up or not,[1] but is in accordance with God-given, natural law. It is indeed the very same as the authority of a father, the use of which was conferred upon the first parent not by his descendants, who did not yet exist, nor by those who did already exist, who willingly gathered together and subjugated themselves to him as the first one created; but on the contrary, just as they acquired body and soul from their first father through natural dependence, so also they acquired the life-instructions that befit a reasoning creature. (Huelsemann)

8. The government has conferred upon it the power to provide, to make laws, to judge, and to punish. (Hollaz)

9. The government has the power of the sword not only metaphorically, but also synecdochically, not only judicially, but also armed with the sword of war. (Dannhauer)[2]

10. The government has power over every soul situated anywhere within the perimeter of its kingdom. (ibid.)

11. The government is God’s minister, but not in the same way that the citizens of the community are. (ibid.)

12. By “Caesar” (or higher authorities), you should understand also those sent by Caesar, who do what they do in Caesar’s name. (ibid.)

13. Subjects have no authority to resist him who is the rightful king even if in exercising his power he is a tyrant. (ibid.)

14. When the sword that has been given to the government and belongs to it is taken up by the subjects, those who lay hold of that sword are sticking their hands into someone else’s office. (ibid.)

15. It is unjust for a subject to take up the sword, when he is simply a mere subject. (ibid.)

16. You should distinguish between those who are only subjects and those who are not only subjects. (Gerhard)

17. You should distinguish between princes who possess all sovereignty and have unlimited authority and princes whose authority is limited and circumscribed by a compact concluded between them and the nobles of the realm. (Gerhard)

18. If the king has part of the sovereignty and the people, the senate, has the other part, then force can be used to oppose the king when he encroaches upon territory that is not his, insofar as he has no ruling authority there. (Dannhauer)

19. It is a false conclusion to say that every authority comes from God and therefore may not be resisted, so that even a tyrant who unjustly invades another land is not to be opposed. (ibid.)

20. So long as the powers to resist are lacking, the lordship of an invader has binding authority, not because it is so just, but because it is to be accepted that those who have the right to rule would sooner that the laws made in the interim be legitimate than advise that laws and justice cease and everything end up in disorder. (ibid.)

21. Princes exist for the sake of the subjects, not subjects for the sake of the princes. (Gerhard)

22. A prince is, as it were, the guardian and custodian of the state, being called its lord not as regards a proprietary right, but in consideration of what he does to rule and protect. (ibid.)

23. A prince can do much that he cannot do with a good conscience. (Dannhauer)

24. The verse in 1 Sam. 8 does not speak about a just and legitimate authority (of a king), but about an actual authority, as it is carried out, that is binding and not to be opposed. (Dannhauer)

25. To Caesar is to be given what is Caesar’s in such way that what is God’s is still given to God. (Gerhard)

26. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, that is, (give) to Caesar the image of Caesar, which is on the coin, and to God the image of God, which is in man, namely so that you give Caesar the money and give God yourself: otherwise, what would be left for God if everything were Caesar’s? (Tertullian)

27. It would be seditious for a preacher not to chastise someone who scoffs at the government. (Luther)

28. The gospel does not abolish civil ordinances.

29. Earth has one kind of authority: heaven has another. (Hackspan)[3]

30. In spiritual matters the government belongs to the sheep, but in political matters to the shepherd. (Gerhard)

31. The government owes obedience to the pastors in spiritual things, since in that relationship it is part of the sheep; on the other hand, in the same way, the church’s ministers owe obedience to the government in political matters, since in that relationship they are the sheep. (ibid.)

32. The prince, as a prince, is chief over the state, just as Christ is chief over the members of the church and protector of its churchly fellowship. (ibid.)

33. If the government is made up of believers who are members of the church, then they extend the call (to the preacher), not because they are the government, but because they are members of the church. (Luther)

34. Secular rule has to do with far different matters than the gospel does: its power is not to protect souls, but body and goods against external forces by using the sword and physical punishments. (Augsburg Confession)

35. The bishop, as a prince, cannot impose anything upon the church, for that would mean mixing the two governments together and then he would be a real “allotri-episkopos,” or a bishop who sticks his hands in other people’s business. If we let him have his way in this matter, then we would be guilty of the same robbery of churches as he is. Here you must sooner give up your life than permit such godlessness and injustice. (Luther)

36. The bishop, as a prince, can impose whatever he wants upon his (Christian) subjects and give them commands, insofar as they are subjects and what he commands is pious and just, and the subjects must obey, for they are then obeying not as the church, but as citizens. (Luther)

37. It is not the business of kings to give laws to the church. (John of Damascus)

38. Secular government should be content and look after its own business and let people believe this or that, however they can and want to believe, and no one should compel people with force to believe something. When it comes to believing, it is something free and cannot be compelled by anyone. Yes, it is something God effects in the spirit. Be quiet, then, about compelling people to believe through outward force. (Luther)

39. Commandments don’t get people to believe the truth, nor is any compromise possible when it comes to the truth. (Balser)

40. The subjects are bound to vindicate their beliefs when the government so commands, but are not bound by a command to believe. (Dannhauer)

41. Heresy as such is a spiritual crime and hence is to be overcome also with the spiritual sword. (Gerhard)

42. Who may force me to believe what I am unwilling to believe or not to believe what I am willing to believe? Nothing is as voluntary as religion: once the disposition for it leaves you, that religion has ceased, it is no more. (Lactantius)

43. The church of Christ does not thirst for blood, since its bridegroom is the Lamb. (Christoph Agricola)[4]

44. The good people in the worldwide church are by no means pleased when anyone, even a heretic, is made to feel the wrath of the death penalty. (Augustine)[5]

45. The government bears the sword for nothing if, in cases of necessity, when there is no other means available for obtaining peace, the sword cannot be drawn from its sheath for the defense of their subjects. (Gerhard)

46. In order for a war to be lawful, it requires that the government has the right to declare and begin the war, that the reasons why the war is undertaken are righteous and fair, that the war is waged in a lawful manner, and that it is waged for a good purpose. (Gerhard)

47. The reasons for the war must be acknowledged not only by the government under whose oversight the war is waged, but also by the soldiers with whose help and service they wage it. (Arcularius)[6]

48. Citizens are not bound to help the government accomplish the waging of an unjust war. (Arcularius)

49. If the government hides the true reason for a war and puts forth another reason in pretence, then the citizens who are called to serve in the war must obey, until a time when it becomes completely obvious that the war is an unjust one. (ibid.)

50. Not for the spread of religion, but for its defense, can a war be waged by a lawful government. (Gerhard)

51. A Christian government certainly can and should use its orderly authority to intervene for a neighboring nation that is being oppressed for its confession of the truth, in order that the strictness might abate somewhat and the free exercise of the true religion be permitted there. (Gerhard)

52. Conducting a case before the judge and calling for the government to pass sentence against the injustice of a neighbor, does not in and of itself conflict with love for one’s neighbor, since God commands justice just as well as love for one’s enemy. (Gerhard)

53. You should argue your legal case in such a way that you are not arguing with your own heart. (ibid.)

54. Besides situations in which you must confess your faith also by denying earthly things, every true Christian is a citizen of this world and must do what the duties of the second table of the law require, as well as pay their debts to others. (Luther)

55. When a murderer wants to do violence to you or a thief wants to take what is yours, then since you are a Christian and you want to be an upright citizen of this world, you must offer resistance to such evil: likewise the secular government, whose member and subject you are, in such a case itself offers resistance and commands you also to offer resistance, on the strength of the second table of the law, if you have the power to do so, and you are bound to obey. (Luther)

56. When a murderer attacks you on the street without warning and is going to do away with you, since you are a Christian you must offer him resistance, even if it should cost him his life, for you know that the government has commanded that people offer resistance to a murderer and that the citizens should be protected from murder. In such a case you are complying with both the first and second tables of the law. (Luther)

57. To change the government and to improve the government are two different things, as far from one another as heaven from earth. (ibid.)

58. To make a contract is a God-given and natural right. (Gerhard)

59. The right to rule is a God-given and natural right, but the determination of what specific form that rule will take belongs to international law, which is to some extant derived from natural rights. (Gerhard)

60. Note that he (David in Ps. 82:1) calls all assemblies or orderly gatherings, God’s assemblies, as God’s own are there and he accepts them as his works, just as he calls Nineveh a city of God in Jonah 1. For he has created all assemblies and he calls them into being and still brings them together, tends them, increases them, blesses and preserves them. Raving mad reason in its cleverness, along with all the wise people of the world, does not know at all that an assembly is something created and ordained by God, but thinks nothing other than that it comes together in a reckless and chaotic manner, and that a nation stays together and lives in one place in the very same way that murderers, robbers, and other evil rabble (which are the devil’s assemblies) intermingle with one another in order to destroy peace and God’s order. (Luther)

[1] (WFW: a free human or positive right)

[2] The power of the sword which Romans 13 assigns to the government includes the execution of criminals and the power of war.

[3] According to Darling’s Cyclopaedia Bibliographica, accessed online, Theodore Hackspan lived 1607-1659 and was a “Lutheran divine and eminent oriental scholar” whose writings included the Cabbalae Judaicae expositio.

[4] Couldn’t find much about this person: Wikipedia mentions a Christoph Agricola who was a violent opponent of Pistorius, but clicking on his name gets you to an article about Christoph Agricola the landscape painter. There is also a composer Wolfgang Christoph Agricola, who lived 1600-1659: three different people?

[5] This refers especially to acts like those of the Inquisition.

[6] According to, Daniel (Schreiner) Arcularius lived 1541-1596 and was a doctor of theology at Marburg.

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