IN WHAT DOES THE POWER OF THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN DIFFER FROM CIVIL POWER?
The points of difference are many, and such as are apparent.
1. Ecclesiastical discipline is exercised by the church; civil power by the judge or magistrate.
2. In the state, judgment is passed according to civil and positive laws; in the church, according to the divine law or word of God.
3. The power of the keys committed to the church depends upon the word of God, and the church exercises her power by the word, denouncing the wrath of God upon the impenitent; punishes the obstinate with the word of God alone, yet in such a way that this punishment takes hold even upon the conscience: civil power employs the sword, and compels the refractory to submit to its authority by temporal punishment alone.
4. The church has different steps of admonition, and if the offender is brought to acknowledge his sin and repents of it, it does not proceed to execute punishment in his case; the magistrate punishes the offender even though he repent.
5. The church in the exercise of discipline, looks to the reformation and salvation of the offender; the magistrate to the execution of justice and the public peace.
6. As the church exercises discipline in the case of none except the obstinate and disobedient, so it is bound to reverse its decision, and to remove the punishment, whenever there is sufficient evidence of repentance on the part of the offender. The magistrate when he has once inflicted punishment neither reverses the decision, nor removes the punishment. The thief that repents upon the cross, or in the hour of death, is received by Christ into Paradise; the magistrate proceeds to the execution of the punishment to which he is sentenced, and sends him into exile. So Christian discipline often takes cognizance of things which the state does not notice, as when the church casts out of her communion those who do not repent, and refuses to recognize them as her members, whilst the magistrate, nevertheless, tolerates them; and so, on the contrary, the state may banish those whom the church receives. The magistrate may, for instance, inflict capital punishment upon adulterers, robbers, thieves, &c., and yet the church may receive them, if they give proper evidence of true repentance. The difference, therefore, between ecclesiastical and civil power, is clear and apparent.
Zacharius Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharius Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, 3rd American Edition. Trans. G. W. Williard (Cincinnati: T. P. Bucher, 1851), 450 (HT: Chris Smith).
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