Monday, September 15, 2014

The Second Helvetic Confession and the Regulative Principle of the State

The Confession's Background

The Second Helvetic Confession was written in 1566 by Heinrich Bullinger, Ulrich Zwingli's successor in Zurich, Switzerland. Another significant reformer to play a role in its publication was Theodore Beza—John Calvin's successor in Geneva, Switzerland—who visited Zurich to help Bullinger with some of the confession's details.

The Second Helvetic Confession came about after the Elector of the Palatinate, Frederick III, appealed to Bullinger to provide an exposition of the Reformed faith to answer charges of heresy by the Lutherans. 

Philip Schaff writes the following about the background of the confession:  
The pious Elector of the Palatinate, Frederick III., being threatened by the Lutherans with exclusion from the treaty of peace on account of his secession to the Reformed Church and publication of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), requested Bullinger in 1565 to prepare a clear and full exposition of the Reformed faith, that he might answer the charges of heresy and dissension so constantly brought against the same. Bullinger sent him a manuscript copy of his Confession. The Elector was so much pleased with it that he desired to have it translated and published in Latin and German before the meeting of the Imperial Diet, which was to assemble at Augsburg in 1566, to act on his alleged apostasy.
In the meantime the Swiss felt the need of such a Confession as a closer bond of union. The First Helvetic Confession was deemed too short, and the Zurich Consensus of 1549 and the Geneva Consensus of 1552 treated only two articles, namely, the Lord's Supper and predestination. Conferences were held, and Beza came in person to Zurich to take part in the work. Bullinger freely consented to a few changes, and prepared also the German version. GenevaBerne, Schaffhausen, Biel, the Grisons, St. Gall, and Muhlhausen expressed their agreement. Basel alone, which had its own Confession, declined for a long time, but ultimately acceded.
The new Confession was published at ZurichMarch 12, 1566, in both languages, at public expense, and was forwarded to the Elector of the Palatinate and to Philip of Hesse. A French translation appeared soon afterwards in Genevaunder the care of Beza. 
In the same year the Elector Frederick made such a manly and noble defence of his faith before the Diet at Augsburg, that even his Lutheran opponents were filled with admiration for his piety, and thought no longer of impeaching him for heresy.[1]

The Confession's Influence

Schaff writes the following about the confession's influence:
The Helvetic Confession is the most widely adopted, and hence the most authoritative of all the Continental Reformed symbols, with the exception of the Heidelberg Catechism. It was sanctioned in Zurich and the Palatinate (1566), Neuchatel (1568), by the Reformed Churches of France (at the Synod of La Rochelle, 1571), Hungary (at the Synod of Debreczin, 1567), and Poland (1571 and 1578). It was well received also in HollandEngland, and Scotland as a sound statement of the Reformed faith. It was translated not only into German, French, and English, but also into Dutch, Magyar, Polish, Italian, Arabic, and Turkish. In Austria and Bohemia the Reformed or Calvinists are officially called "the Church of the Helvetic Confession," the Lutherans, "the Church of the Augsburg Confession."[2]

Chapter XII: Of the Law of God

In its section on the law of God, the Second Helvetic Confession teaches that all spheres of life—which naturally includes civil government—are to be regulated by God's law:
THE LAW IS COMPLETE AND PERFECT. We believe that the whole will of God and all necessary precepts for every sphere of life are taught in this law. For otherwise the Lord would not have forbidden us to add or to take away anything from this law; neither would he have commanded us to walk in a straight path before this law, and not to turn aside from it by turning to the right or to the left (Deut. 4:2; 12:32).[3]

CHAPTER XXX: Of the Magistracy

Since according to Chapter XII we cannot add or take away from God's law, and since the law includes "all necessary precepts for every sphere of life," then we should not be surprised to find the section on the Magistracy requiring rulers to govern by God's word—including by looking to Scripture for laws and punishments:
THE DUTY OF THE MAGISTRATE. The chief duty of the magistrate is to secure and preserve peace and public tranquillity. Doubtless he will never do this more successfully than when he is truly God-fearing and religious; that is to say, when, according to the example of the most holy kings and princes of the people of the Lord, he promotes the preaching of the truth and sincere faith, roots out lies and all superstition, together with all impiety and idolatry, and defends the Church of God. We certainly teach that the care of religion belongs especially to the holy magistrate.
Let him, therefore, hold the Word of God in his hands, and take care lest anything contrary to it is taught. Likewise let him govern the people entrusted to him by God with good laws made according to the Word of God, and let him keep them in discipline, duty and obedience. Let him exercise judgment by judging uprightly. Let him not respect any man's person or accept bribes. Let him protect widows, orphans and the afflicted. Let him punish and even banish criminals, impostors and barbarians. For he does not bear the sword in vain (Rom. 13:4).
Therefore, let him draw this sword of God against all malefactors, seditious persons, thieves, murderers, oppressors, blasphemers, perjured persons, and all those whom God has commanded him to punish and even to execute. Let him suppress stubborn heretics (who are truly heretics), who do not cease to blaspheme the majesty of God and to trouble, and even to destroy the Church of God.[4]


[1] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church: Volume VII: Modern Christianity, The Swiss Reformation (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1907), 221, 222.
[2] Ibid., 222.
[3] Cited at Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Retrieved September 15, 2014 from
[4] Ibid.

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