Long Live the King!
Reflections on the significance and implications of the
By: Pev. Peter Simpson
(Pastor of Penn Free Methodist Church and CW Committee Member)
As we prepare for the Coronation of King Charles III in May 2023, we cannot over-emphasise the importance of this event with respect to our nation’s Bible-based constitution. The key element in the coronation service is the fact that it takes place in the sight of the Trinitarian God, and it involves specific promises made before Him, rendering the one who makes the promises, and the government which he represents, liable to the judgment of God, if such promises are broken.
The awesome solemnity of oath-taking is made clear in the book of Numbers, “If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth” (Num. 30:2). So the Coronation Service must never be viewed as some kind of delightful, quaint, but relatively meaningless ancient ceremony, nor can it be dismissed as mere pageantry. It is a deadly serious transaction with significance for the well-being of the whole nation.
The Coronation Oath Act 1688, which William and Mary swore to commences, ‘Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the people of this kingdom of England and the dominions thereto belonging according to the statutes in Parliament agreed on and the laws and customs of the same?’ King Charles will have to swear to the same with the likely amendment to reflect the current state of Great Britain and the Commonwealth.
Whilst this first part of the oath emphasises the supremacy of Parliament, this does not give Parliament absolute authority to ignore custom, and surely the Biblical basis of Britain’s laws ever since the time of King Alfred must come under the scope of the word custom. Furthermore, the fact that the King swears, that is, makes a solemn promise, brings into the proceedings a far higher authority than Parliament: the monarch is not swearing an oath to those who sit in the House of Commons, or to the people, but to the Lord of all the earth. The whole event is transacted in His presence.
We read in the book of Proverbs, that “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord” (Prov. 21:1), and the eternal Son of God declares of His authority, “By Me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth” (Prov. 8:16). If this subservience before the Lord is true of the Head of State, how, of course, it is also true for the monarch’s subjects and their representatives in Parliament.
The new King will further be asked in May, ‘Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel and the Protestant Reformed religion established by law?’ This promise which the monarch must make on oath is about the need for the nation to yield to the authority of Scripture, for it is the whole nation represented in the person of the King. There is no way in which Parliament can bypass this fundamental constitutional foundation, enacted by statute, that the laws of this kingdom must be in accordance with God’s laws. Parliament is under the King, not above him.
All Members of Parliament (MPs) have sworn an oath of allegiance to the monarch, and so that must include the necessity of honouring what the King himself is obliged to do, which is ‘to maintain the laws of God’. Therefore, when MPs pass legislation contrary to the Word of God, as in the present day is increasingly the case, they undermine not only the oath that the head of state has taken but also that which they themselves have taken.
There is no way of defining the ‘true profession of the Gospel’ and the ‘Protestant Reformed religion’ that the monarch undertakes to uphold other than by reference to the final authority of Scripture, which is the inerrant Word of God. This resort to the Bible’s authority, rather than to that of the Church or State, is the essence of Protestantism. If ever there were an abused word and concept, it is indeed ‘Protestant’. It has sadly been tragically misappropriated to carry only a negative connotation of being opposed to others, or as referring to mere cultural and tribal identity. It is, however, a strictly theological term, and it speaks of upholding the primacy of Scripture in determining all matters of faith and practice.
The origin of the English word Protestant is related to the Latin verb protestare, which means to testify publicly, to bear witness to. So immediately we see that it is a positive term. A Protestant is one who bears witness to Jesus Christ, one who publicly testifies to the message of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, one who proclaims that salvation is all of grace and received through personal faith in the Saviour, and not through the offices and rites of any earthly institution called a church, not of the Roman Catholic church, or indeed of any other church.
This right understanding of what Protestantism is has enormous significance in respect of the Coronation Oath. Whilst the monarch assumes the role of Supreme Governor of the Church of England, his promise to uphold the ‘Protestant Reformed religion’ must surely refer, not just to the national church in England (for it includes the Church of Scotland, with it Presbyterian system of government), but also to all the nonconformist churches as well, including those which are independent. There are many churches outside of the national church which stand on the authority of Scripture alone, and which are therefore upholding ‘the Protestant Reformed religion’.
Indeed, without any impropriety, it can be stated that the 21st Century Bible-believing independent churches are far more Protestant than the national church, and are far more effectively helping the monarch to honour his or her Coronation promises before God than the generally liberal Church of England, where the spirit of the age, rather than the teachings of Scripture, so often takes precedence. The obligation upon a new monarch to take the Coronation Oath is enshrined in statute law, namely the 1688 Coronation Oath Act, which remains in force to the present day, it being a fundamental principle of law that mere age can never invalidate the application of any unrepealed act.
The following year after the passing of the Coronation Oath Act in 1688, the Toleration Act was passed to bring together the various Protestant groupings. ‘It allowed most dissenters…the freedom to worship publicly, provided they took a simplified version of the oath of allegiance…(and) between 1691 and 1710 some 2,536 dissenting places of worship were licensed’. (www.parliament.uk Catholics and nonconformists).
This demonstrates that the monarch’s promise to uphold the ‘Protestant Reformed religion’ is not simply about maintaining the position of the Church of England, but of Protestantism generally, and that is why nonconformists today should take a close interest in what Charles III promises in May 2023. Of course, the monarchs’ promise regarding Protestantism implies an exclusion of Roman Catholicism as being the nation’s faith as established by law. This exclusion, however, has nothing to do with any unseemly sectarian spirit but it is a necessary reminder that key Roman Catholic doctrines are at variance with the inerrant revelation of God’s Word, the Bible.
The promise to uphold the ‘Protestant Reformed religion’ also of necessity excludes other faiths, all other world religions, for they all deny that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah, the eternal Son of God manifest in the flesh, and the unique Saviour of sinners, to whom all men must resort if ever they are to find salvation. As the Apostle Peter declared of our Lord, “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
So as we approach the Coronation Service, we must be on our guard that no multi-faith elements are introduced because the King must represent all his subjects, many of whom will adhere to different faiths. Yes, of course, the King will oversee the administration of justice in the land, so that all are fairly, equally, and respectfully treated, whatever their religious affiliation, but what the monarch must not, and cannot constitutionally do, is to recognise the legitimacy of any religious system and body of teaching which denies the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ and His unique mediatorial office of High Priest and Saviour of sinners.
When our Lord was put to death, the leaders of the nation and the major body of His fellow countrymen did not acknowledge His true status. Their majority verdict on how He should be treated was not of course remotely in accordance with the truth, and this teaches us that the will of the democratic majority cannot be made the arbiter of spiritual and eternal realities.
The Coronation Oath is a public statement that national well-being consists in the acceptance of the revelation of the Trinitarian God in Scripture, and has nothing to do with any supposed obligation to reflect what the majority thinking of any one time might be. This is our response to the many who would argue that the Coronation Oath is anachronistic because modern Britain is a multicultural society where other faiths are practised.
A major and crucial aspect of the 1953 Coronation Service, which is a natural outflowing of the monarch’s oath, is the section entitled, The presenting of the Holy Bible. In the 1688 Act the King and Queen were required to place their hands upon the ‘holy gospels’ as representing the whole of the Scriptures. This ceremony of presenting the Bible beautifully encapsulates the spirit of the oath and must never be dispensed with. The new monarch receives the Bible as the following words are spoken: ‘To keep your Majesty ever mindful of the law, and the gospel of God, as the rule for the whole life and government of Christian princes, we present you with this book, the most valuable thing that this world afford. Here is wisdom; this is the royal law; these are the lively oracles of God.’
Our nation’s only hope today is to embrace the truth of these words and to submit to the authority of God’s Word, whose glorious theme in both the Old and New Testaments is the Lord Jesus Christ and His great salvation. May His Name be uplifted and glorified at the forthcoming Coronation Service.
This article previously appeared in
‘The Reformer’ magazine January – March 2023