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British Constitution Project

Bible Background - Magna Charter - Henry VIII - Elizabeth I - Gunpowder Plot - The National Covenant - Cromwell v Charles I - Revolution Settlement - The Monarchy Today - Parliament Today - Church and State


The aim of this project is to show the importance of Biblical principles in securing stable and just government. It has particular reference to the United Kingdom for historical reasons. It was in the British Isles that major civil struggles took place to secure freedom from despotism. References are included in the main sections for suggested reading. The concluding task is an evaluation in the light of Biblical principles of contemporary democracy. The project has been designed for use at the Secondary stage of education but the biographical selections would be suitable for use with juniors. Any reliable history texts could serve as a basis for the project.


Bible Background

Magna Charter

Henry VIII

Elizabeth I

Gunpowder Plot

The National Covenant

Cromwell v Charles I

Revolution Settlement

The Monarchy Today

Parliament Today

Church and State

Bible Background

The Bible has a lot to say about civil government and it is important to look at the main principles found in the Old and New Testaments. Consider the following passages.

Deuteronomy 17.14-20

Principle 1. The ruler is to be elected by the people.

"When thou art come unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me; Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother."

This setting of the king over the people by their own grant was still applicable in Israel notwithstanding the requirement that God must appoint the Israelites' king. The practice of election and acclamation by the people is found in the following passages: "And all the people went to Gilgal; and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal; and there they sacrificed sacrifices of peace offerings before the Lord; and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly." (1 Samuel 11.15) "And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah. (2 Samuel 2.4) "So Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites, and the Pelethites, went down, and caused Solomon to ride upon king David's mule, and brought him to Gihon. And Zadok the priest took an horn of oil out of the tabernacle, and anointed Solomon. And they blew the trumpet; and all the people said, God save king Solomon. And all the people came up after him, and the people piped with pipes, and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth rent with the sound of them" (1 Kings 1)

Principle 2. The ruler must avoid self-interest.

"But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the Lord hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold."

Principle 3. The ruler must be instructed out of God's law and observe it.

"And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel."

2 Chronicles 19.4-7

Principle 4. The judges judge for God not man.

"And Jehoshaphat set judges in the land throughout all the fenced cities of Judah, city by city, And said to the judges, Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment."

Principle 5. The judges are to rule righteously and be strictly impartial.

"Wherefore now let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts." The same is taught in the Book of Proverbs: "It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment." (Proverbs 24.23) Similarly in Deuteronomy we have: "Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment. Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous. That which is altogether just shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." (Deuteronomy 16.18-20) Alexander Sheilds states: "The ruler then has a trust from the people under God, and he must judge, and that righteously, impartially, truly and according to right law not arbitrarily and corruptly nor in determinations contrary to the law of God."

Deuteronomy 19.15-19

Principle 6. Judges must accept and only accept duly attested evidence and that from more than one witness.

"One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established."

Principle 7. False witnesses are to be exposed by diligent inquisition and duly punished.

If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong; Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days; And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you."

1 Kings 3.16-28

Principle 8. Judges are to hear both sides of a matter before judgement is passed.

"Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him.

"And the one woman said, O my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house. And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house. And this woman's child died in the night; because she overlaid it. And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom. And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead: but when I had considered it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, which I did bear.

"And the other woman said, Nay; but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son.

"And this said, No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son. Thus they spake before the king.

"Then said the king, The one saith, This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead: and the other saith, Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living."

Romans 13.1-6

Principle 9. Rulers are to be obeyed in the right exercise of their power.

"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation." Peter has the same: "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well." (1 Peter 2.13-14)

Principle 10. Rulers are to uphold what is good and reward it.

"For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good."

Principle 11. Rulers are to punish evildoers using the capital sentence where required.

"But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil."

Principle 12. Taxes are to be paid as a matter of conscience.

"Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing."

1 Timothy 2.1-3

Principle 13. Rulers are to be prayed for.

"I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour." (1 Timothy 2.1-3)

Extension Work

Prepare a table like the one shown below and include each of the thirteen principles mentioned above. Complete the table as far as you can.

The Basis of Good Government


Bible reference

Good Example

Bad Example

1. Election

Deut 17.15

King David

Queen Athaliah

2. Not selfish




Magna Carta

In 1215 the Magna Carta restated the limited power of the king. Even the king could not break the common law and in order to change the law he had to consult the Council, which was a forerunner of parliament.

Extension Work

Prepare an illustration of the signing of the Magna Carta in an art medium of your choice.

Henry VIII

During the reign of Henry VIII the power of the pope was broken. The pope claimed to be supreme over all temporal powers and he ran into conflict with Henry VII over the latter's marriages and divorces. Henry started out as a Roman catholic but conflicts with the pope led to the Supremacy Act 1534, which made Henry, not the pope, head of the Church of England. This was followed by reforms of a Protestant character. Consult A.M. Renwick The Story of the Church, pages 126-129 and J. A. Wylie, History of Protestantism, Volume III, pages 374-377, 383-404.

Extension Work

List the leading events of Henry's reign and give a brief explanatory note of the significance of each event that you list.

Elizabeth I

Renewed conflict between the Crown and Parliament arose in connection with Church order. Protestant reforms in the Church of England had taken place under Edward VI (1547-1553) but all this had been swept away by the fanatical Romanism of "Bloody Mary" (1553-1558). Elizabeth was consequently received with great joy and Protestantism replaced Roman Catholicism as the national religion. For the details consult A.M. Renwick The Story of the Church, pages 134-139 and J. A. Wylie, History of Protestantism, Volume III, pages 431-465. Conflict between Elizabeth and the House of Commons arose over the sole headship of Christ over the Church and also over the regulative principle of worship.

Extension Work

Consider the amazing deliverance of England as a result of the destruction of the Armada's destruction and write an illustrated report on the subject.

The following is Elizabeth's prayer before the defeat of the Armada. "We do instantly beseech Thee of Thy gracious goodness, be merciful to the Church militant here upon earth, and at this time compassed about with most strong and subtle adversaries. O! let Thine enemies know that Thou hast received England which they most of all for Thy Gospel's sake do malign, into Thine own protection. Set a wall about it, O Lord, and evermore mightily defend it. Let it be a comfort to the afflicted, a help to the oppressed, and a defence of Thy Church and people persecuted abroad. And, forasmuch as this cause is new in hand, direct, and go before our armies, both by sea and land. Bless them and prosper them, and grant unto them honourable success and victory. Thou art our help and shield. O1 give good and prosperous success to all those that fight this battle against the enemies of Thy Gospel."

Gunpowder Plot

On the death of Elizabeth I in March 1603 those whose sympathies were with Rome were disappointed at the throne passing to a king who had said that he would maintain the profession of the Gospel. There were those who were prepared to resort to violence in order to overthrow the Government and the infamous Gunpowder Plot was hatched. This is perhaps one of the best-known and remembered events of British history on account of its annual commemoration on November 5th.

Extension Work

Find books to tell you about the Gunpowder Plot. Prepare your own survey of the historical events leading up to and following the Gunpowder Plot and design some appropriate illustrations.

The National Covenant

Events in Scotland came to a head in connection with the imposition of the Divine Right of Kings and Episcopal Church government in Scotland. The background to the 1638 Covenant can be read in A.M. Renwick The Story of the Church, pages 157-159 and J. A. Wylie, History of Protestantism, Volume III, pages 540-545.

Extension Work

Biographies of the Scottish Covenanters can be read in the excellent little book Torchbearers of the Truth by A. S. Horne and published by The Scottish Reformation Society.

Cromwell v Charles I

In England the conflict between Crown and Commons led to the Civil War. The troubles, which had started under Elizabeth, continued under James VI and came to a head under Charles I. Charles stood for the Divine Right of Kings in the State. This regarded hereditary monarchy and the rule of succession as being the divinely sanctioned form of government and Charles intended to exercise despotic authority. He did not recognise election by the people nor did he rule in accordance with the moral law of God. In pursuit of his aims Charles ruled for eleven years without parliament. Details can be read in A.M. Renwick The Story of the Church, pages 156-159 and J. A. Wylie, History of Protestantism, Volume III, pages 536-556.

Extension Work

Read about Oliver Cromwell and then write an essay entitled "Cromwell: Christian, Soldier and Statesman." Prepare your own map of the Civil War to supplement your essay. If you are close enough to one of the battle sites, go and see it.

Revolution Settlement

The gains of the Civil War were largely swept away by the Restoration. Charles II and James II sought to suppress Protestantism against the will of the people. This led to William of Orange being invited to take the throne, which he did without bloodshed. The issues were not merely religious but also constitutional and it had been established that the people had the right through their representatives to depose the King, to change the order of succession and to have the monarch of their choice. The election of William and Mary ended the claim of the Divine Right and hereditary right independent of law. A survey of the period can be found in A.M. Renwick The Story of the Church, pages 159-161 and J. A. Wylie, History of Protestantism, Volume III, pages 578-585, 603-624.

Extension Work

In the case of king or queen holding communion with the Church of Rome or professing its religion or marrying one who professed its religion the Bill of Rights and Act of Settlement stated that such a one  "shall be excluded and be forever incapable to inherit, possess, or enjoy the Crown or Government of this Realm and in every such case the people of these realms shall be and are released of their allegiance."

Write an essay considering the significance of the revolution settlement  in connection with our present liberties in the light of changes that are now taking place.

The Monarchy Today

The monarch today is sovereign only by virtue of Act of Parliament and is installed by Coronation. In the latter the King or Queen promises to maintain the Laws of god and the true profession of the Gospel and to maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant and Reformed Religion established by law. There are many today who would regard this as a merely formal acceptance of principles for which many in Britain gave their lives through the preceding centuries.

Extension Work

Prepare a genealogical tree for the succession to the British throne.

Parliament Today

The main organs of government in the UK are now the monarchy, the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the Cabinet, the office of Prime Minister, Local Authorities and the judiciary. Up to date information is available in such publications as official handbooks of Britain or encyclopaedias. The present emphases of democratic election, mandate from the people and the supremacy of parliament have displaced in contemporary thinking the election of rulers to serve under God, the supremacy of the moral law of God and accountability of rulers to God.

Extension Work

Prepare a report explaining the functions of the main organs of government in the UK.

Church and State

For a consideration of the subject of Church and State see the James Begg Society booklet Church and State (2001) available from the Secretary. Internet:

Concluding Task

Using the thirteen Biblical principles at the beginning of this project guide evaluate the present system of government in the UK and the changes that are taking place.