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Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici: The Divine Right of Church Government (Coldwell)

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Reformation Heritage Books

A Pastoral Work on Church Government.

According to many historians this well written and well reasoned work was the Westminster Assembly’s defense of presbyterianism.

Part 1 of Jus Divinum establishes the nature of a divine right and the different ways to determine whether something has a divine right according to the Scriptures. Part 2 takes up what form of church government is established by Scripture to be of divine right.

The book espouses jus divinum presbyterianism.

The Southern Presbyterian Thomas Smyth called this book “a work of admirable and overpowering argument.” In The Church of Christ, James Bannerman said this “work contains an extremely able, thorough, and satisfactory discussion of most of the points relating to the nature of Church government as a Divine institution, and to the power or authority of the Church, its seat and exercise.”

Church sessions would profit much from studying this work together.

In 1646 the often tense relationship between the English Parliament and the Westminster Assembly of Divines, which had been summoned to advise Parliament on reforming the Church of England, came to a boiling point. When the House of Commons made it clear by an ordinance that a creature of Parliament would decide cases of suspension from the Lord’s Supper, the Assembly protested that this was “contrary to that Way of Government which Christ hath appointed in His Church, in that it giveth a Power to judge of the Fitness of Persons to come to the Sacrament unto such as our Lord Christ hath not given that Power unto.” The Commons charged the Assembly with breach of privilege and ordered that they answer nine questions about what the Scriptures mandate regarding church government, and then published the questions in an attempt to discredit the Assembly. 

Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici has long been considered the embodiment of the defensive reply of the presbyterian majority and in some respect the whole Assembly of Divines of what the Scriptures teach about church government.

The present volume presents a critical text of this work based on the three period editions of 1646, 1647, and 1654.

The briefer but extremely helpful Part 1 describes how to determine whether something is of divine right, while the longer Part 2 describes the details of that system of government found to be of divine right in the Word of God.


Table of Contents:

Part One: Of the Nature of Divine Right

1. That there is a government in the church of divine right now under the New Testament

2. Of the nature of a jus divinum or a divine right in general

3. Of the nature of jus divinum, a divine right in particular. How many ways a thing may be of divine right. And first ... by true light of nature

4. Of a divine right by obligatory Scripture examples

5. Of a jus divinum, a divine right by divine approbation

6. Of a jus divinum, a divine right by divine acts

7. Of a jus divinum, a divine right by divine precepts

Part Two: Of the Nature of That Church Government Which Is of Divine Right according to the Scripture

1 The description of church government

2. Of the subject described, church government, the terms briefly opened up

3. Of the genus or general nature of church government, power & authority

4. Of the special difference of church government from other governments. And first, of the special rule of church government, the holy Scriptures

5. Of the proper author or fountain, whence church government and the authority thereof is derived jure divino, Jesus Christ our Mediator

6. Of the species, special kind, or peculiar nature of this power & authority

7. Of the various parts or acts of this power of church government, wherein it puts forth itself in the church

8. Of the end and scope of this government of the church

9. Of the proper receptacle and distinct subject of all this power & authority of church government … 1. Negatively, that the political magistrate is not the proper subject of this power

10. That the community of the faithful, or the body of the people, are not the immediate receptacle or subject of the power of church government

11. Affirmatively, what it is: Christ’s own officers

12. Of the divine right of parochial presbyteries or congregational elderships, for the government of the church

13. Of the divine right of greater presbyteries (… classical presbyteries)

14. Of the divine right of synods, or synodal assemblies

15. Of the subordination of particular churches to greater assemblies

Appendix I: Additional Latin Translations

Appendix II: Canons or rules of the apostles about church government



For over thirty years through Naphtali Press, Chris Coldwell has published fine quality editions of Puritan, Presbyterian and Reformed literature. He is also the general editor and publisher of The Confessional Presbyterian journal.



“Arguably the best biblical defenses of presbyterian ecclesiology and explanations of its polity were produced in the seventeenth century. Among these, none has a reputation better than an English work with the Latin title Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici, with the English subtitle The Divine Right of Church Government. In three successive editions, two of which were penned during the time that the Westminster Assembly met, ‘sundry’ London ministers laid out their case. In the first part of the book they demonstrate that there is a government of the church established and revealed by God. In the second part of the book they describe that government, explain its benefits to God’s people, and further develop the biblical and theological justifications for presbyterianism.

Chris Coldwell’s new edition of this classic work will prove a most welcome addition to the Presbyterian minister’s or even church member’s bookshelf. The entire book was addressed to people who were not yet persuaded regarding the merits of presbyterian church government. It hardly needs to be said that such an audience has only expanded in the Christian world and that many people could benefit from understanding a principled form of church government rather than ones where leaders (or members) make it up as they go along. This critical edition is almost a third longer than earlier abridged versions. It offers David Noe’s translations of Latin material and a thoughtful introduction. The edition also evidences Coldwell’s careful editorial work and successful sleuthing, in some cases solving puzzles that have stumped historians for centuries. Editor, subscribers, and publisher are to be thanked for this invaluable scholarly contribution.” — Chad Van Dixhoorn, editor of The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly 1643–1652