Samuel Rutherford on Tolerance and Freedom of Conscience

Over the last few weeks I have been writing a series of articles about the roots of modern Calvinism. (see last week’s article: The Westminster Confession of Faith and Persecution). All of this is building up to a discussion Cornelius Van Til and his presuppositional apologetics.

However I am going to use this post to provide a lot of detail about Samuel Rutherford (one of the Westminster Divines) and his views on tolerance and freedom of conscience. I am doing this because of what I believe to be misrepresentations of Rutherford’s beliefs in Charlie Clough’s Bible Framework series. After listening to that series I believed that Samuel Rutherford was in the vanguard of 17th century men who vigorously advocated for freedom as expressed in the founding of the United States a century later. I even purchased a copy of Rutherford’s Lex Rex (a refutation of the divine right of kings) because of Pastor Clough’s teaching.

It was a shock when I found out how wrong that is; Samuel Rutherford did not believe in freedom of conscience in any way that I recognize. I don’t know if Charlie Clough wasn’t aware of Samuel Rutherford’s true views on freedom of conscience or if he simply chose to ignore them. Either way if Charlie Clough really believes in freedom he should never mention the name of Samuel Rutherford again.

In this post I am going to provide an extended quote  (18 pages) from William Marshall’s “The principles of the Westminster standards persecuting” written in 1873. In it Mr. Marshall quotes, in turn, from Rutherford’s “A Free Disputation Against pretended Liberty of Conscience Tending  To Resolve Doubts Moved by Mr. John Goodwin, John Baptist, Dr. Jer. Taylor, the Belgic Arminians, Socinians, and other Authors contending for lawless Liberty or licentious Toleration of Sects and Heresies”. Rutherford’s writing is probably typical for the 17th century but it is really dense and difficult for a modern reader. However I would recommend at least scanning the chapter titles at the link I provided. There are gems like “Chapt. 6. Errors in non-fundamentals obstinately held are punishable” and “Chapt. 13. Magistracy and perpetual laws in the Old Testament warrant the civil coercing of false prophets” give a good sense of where he stands.

Now, courtesy of William Marshall, here is the part of Chapter VII of “The principles of the Westminster standards persecuting” that deals with Samuel Rutherford:

“Now, what was the view held by the Presbyterian members of Assembly as to the fair, logical, even necessary application of this common principle? That question is answered in a well-known book which I hold in my hand–well-known, I mean, by name; few of us, I suspect, have read it–Samuel Rutherford’s Free Disputation against Pretended Liberty of Conscience. Rutherford, I need not remind the House, was himself a member of the Westminster Assembly, one of the Scottish Commissioners, and this treatise of his was published in 1649, two years after the Confession of Faith had been finally revised at Westminster, and approved by the General Assembly. Well, in this book Rutherford expressly claims the sanction of the Confession–of that fourth section of the twentieth Chapter–for the view he has been urging through hundreds of pages regarding liberty of conscience. ‘The Reverend Assembly of Divines,’ he says (p. 279), ‘give their sense of this pretended liberty to be against the will and mind of God in His Word. Their sense of this pretended liberty,’–a phrase taken from the Confession—‘who under pretence of Christian liberty’. Now what was this liberty which Rutherford condemned, and held the Confession to have condemned, as merely ‘pretended liberty’? I am sure that no one who has read his treatise will dispute the accuracy of the statement I make, when I say, that by ‘pretended liberty,’ Rutherford meant liberty to teach any thing contrary to the Confession in any particular, great or small; and further, liberty to form or belong to any Church but the one true Church of the nation. Any man in the kingdom might hold in his own mind what view he chose, so long as he kept his mind to him self; but no man was at liberty, or ought to be left at liberty, to utter in the hearing of others, or to disseminate by means of the press, any view opposed to the Confession. And so no man was at liberty, or ought to be left at liberty, to raise, or sacrifice at, rival altars, or even to absent himself from the ordinances of God as then set up in the land. Liberty to do any of these things was but ‘pretended liberty;’ and those claiming it and attempting to exercise it, were to be summarily dealt with, proceeded against by the censures of the Church, and by the power of the civil magistrate. [Emphasis added] Accordingly, carrying out this view, Samuel Rutherford maintained that there was, and could be, no such thing as persecution except for the truth for righteousness sake; no man holding and teaching error could possibly be persecuted, the punishment of such a man being not persecution at all, any more than the punishment of a thief, or of a forger, was persecution. The heretic, along with the thief and the forger, suffered simply as an evil-doer. Dr. Cunningham, in his Historical Theology, after stating that the principal error of the Reformers on the subject of the magistrate’s power with respect to religion, was their notion of the right and duty of civil rulers to punish men, and even to inflict the punishment of death, on account of heresy and blasphemy, adds, The question continued to perplex the minds of theologians for several generations, and it cannot be denied that during nearly the whole of the seventeenth century, Protestant Divines in general ascribed, in speculation at least, to civil rulers, a power of inflicting punishment on account of heresy, which is now universally rejected, except by the adherents of the Church of Rome. This book of Samuel Rutherford’s, and all other books of the time on the same subject the works, for example, of Ferguson of Kilwinning, of David Dickson of Irvine, of Thomas Edwards of London but illustrate the truth of Dr. Cunningham’s statement, so far as our Presbyterian fathers were concerned. (Hear, hear.) Liberty of conscience/ in the understanding of Rutherford and his contemporaries, was simply liberty to hold and profess the truth.

” Dr. GIBSON. Hear, hear.

” Mr. CAMERON. Liberty to hold and profess the truth! A very good definition of liberty of conscience as before God, but a sorry definition of liberty of conscience as before men. (Loud applause.) Liberty to teach anything else than the truth was not liberty, but licentiousness pretended liberty, as little to be endured as would have been a claim for liberty to individuals to make laws for themselves, contrary to the common laws of the land, or to set up a variety of civil governments within the same kingdo–(hear, hear;)–a view to which our fathers were led by the fundamental error from which they started, viz., that the laws of the theocrasy are still in force in this connection, and, therefore, that the magistrate is as much bound now as he was in Old Testament times to root out idolatry and error from the land. (Hear, hear.) It may interest Dr. Begg to know that, among the passages which Rutherford quotes very confidently in proof of this are some which he has repeatedly quoted in these discussions. That one, for example, Kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers. (A laugh.) It is a glorious promise. I do not quote it, of course, to excite laughter. (Hear, hear.) But it may interest Dr. Begg to know that in that promise Samuel Rutherford finds evidence, not so much that the magistrate is to establish and endow the Church of that, indeed, he says nothing but that the magistrate is to suppress heretics and heresy all over his dominions. (Applause.) Would a nurse, he asks, allow the children she has in charge to have poison set down before them ? and what poison so dreadful and deadly as error, by which not the body, but the soul is destroyed? (Applause.) There is another prophecy, to which he devotes a whole Chapter of his book, that in Zech. xiii. 2-4. He quotes the first verse of the chapter to show that the prophecy relates to Gospel times: In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of Judah, for sin and uncleanness; then he gives the prophecy itself: Also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirits to cease out of the land; and it shall come to pass, that when any shall yet prophesy, then his father and mother that begat him shall say unto him, Thou shalt not live; for thou speakest lies in the name of the Lord: and his father and mother that begat him shall thrust him through when he prophesieth. And then he proceeds to demonstrate that such a prophecy involves the permanent obligation of the Levitical law in this matter, and therefore the duty of the magistrate to deal summarily with false prophets and unclean spirits. This text from Zechariah, by the way, is one of those subjoined to the Confession, and was no doubt put there along with the rest (every page of Rutherford’s book, and of all the books of the time on the subject, bristles with these very texts), in the full conviction that the abiding obligation of the Mosaic law regarding the punishment of heretics was thereby established. None of our fathers seem to have had a doubt on that subject. I turned up the other day, e.g., George Hutcheson on the Minor Prophets Hutcheson was a member of the General Assembly of 1647, by which the Confession was approved and found him deducing the following among other doctrines from that passage in Zechariah:

 ” 2. The toleration of a false religion in doctrine or worship, and the exemption of the erroneous from civil punishment, is no more lawful under the New Testament than it was under the Old, it being no more lawful to compel consciences (if so be that this be a compulsion, as men give out) then, nor it is now; for here is a prophecy of the days of the New Testament, alluding to the law (Deut. xiii. 5, 6, 9) as being then to be in force.

 ” 6. It is not enough, nor is it a sufficient testimony of zeal in magistrates, to suppress and punish erroneous persons when they do, by their doctrines and practices, disturb the civil peace of the State; but their wronging of the truth of God, corrupting of souls food, poisoning them with lies instead of truth, and wronging of the God of Truth by fathering a lie upon Him, ought to stir up zeal to take order with them; for this is the reason of the sentence, ” Thou shalt not live, for thou speakest lies in the name of the Lord.” …

” 7. Some errors are so eminently blasphemous, and some persons so eminently engaged in vending and promoting of them, as in God s account calls for the death of the seducers, for of some prophets it is said, Thou shalt not live and they shall thrust thee through. (“Minor Prophets,” ii. 203, 204.)

 “I might go on with quotations of this sort to any extent, but I must confine myself to one additional extract, with the view of showing the sweep of the principle in the Confession on this subject, as that principle was understood and applied by Rutherford and the rest. How far did it carry them, not only against Popish priests and Socinian teachers, but even against men whom they themselves regarded as evangelical, holding all fundamental truth? We have the answer in a chapter of Rutherford s treatise, entitled, ‘What Opinions may be Tolerated? What not?’ Listen to what follows:

“’ But are there no far-off truths at all to be tolerated? Do not learned men give diverse and contrary expositions of one and the same text of Scripture ? And hath not the Church suffered errors and erroneous opinions in godly, learned men, in all ages, even in Tertullian, Augustine, and others ? and have not implored the sword of the magistrate against them, though all errors printed and preached hurt the souls of others more or less ?

 “’ Ans. Some errors about things that God hath left indifferent for the time as opinions and practices about meats and days, Rom. xiv., i Cor. viii. 10. In these God gives an indulgence, and bids us, so long as the date of indifferency endureth, bear with the weaker. … So it would appear that some lower errors, that are far off, without the compass of the ordinary discerning of man, and lie at a distance from the foundation (as fundamentals and Gospel promises lie near the heart of Christians), may be dispensed with; as a conjecture, What became of the meat that Christ ate after His resurrection when He was now in the state of immortality ? and some probable opinions that neither better the holder nor much promove or hinder the edification of others, are not much to be heeded, save that curiosity in them is sinful, and happily may be tolerated; or whether the heavens and the earth, after the day of judgment, shall be annihilated, and turned to nothing, and be no more, or if they shall be renewed, and delivered from vanity, and endued with new qualities, etc. (97, 98).

” Such were the limits within which Rutherford would have confined toleration. But he has no sooner made even this small concession than he adds:

” Such opinions and practices as make an evident schism in a Church, and set up two distinct Churches, of different forms of government, and pretending to different institutions of Christ, of which the one must, by the nature of their principles, labour for the destruction of the other, cannot be tolerated; for each pretending their fellow Churches to be of man, and so of the devil, though they make one invisible Church, agreeing in all fundamentals, and many other truths, soon the whole should be a kingdom divided against itself, and this destroyeth peace and unity. And if Paul could not endure the divisions of one and the same Church of Corinth, though they pretended not to be different Churches, … far more could he not endure gathering of true Churches out of true Churches, which is the professed practice of the Independents etc. (98, 99). (Laughter and applause.)

 ” Passages like these need no comment; and, extreme though they be, they express, as I have said, not only Samuel Rutherford s view, but the view of all our fathers of that time. Besides, and very important, they express the view which Rutherford held, and which no doubt his brethren held with him, to be the view of the Confession of Faith the fair, logical, necessary application of the principle laid down in the fourth section of the twentieth Chapter. It was after writing these passages, and many passages equally strong, protesting and arguing all through against liberty to teach error, whether in fundamentals or in non-fundamentals, as but pretended liberty, that Rutherford wrote, with a reference to that twentieth Chapter entered in the margin, The reverend Assembly of Divines give their sense of this pretended liberty to be against the will and mind of God in His Word. (Loud applause.)

 ” So much for the Presbyterian members of the Westminster Assembly. But what of the Independent members? ” After correcting Mr. Moody Stuart for representing the latter as “the strenuous advocates of toleration,” and on this ignorant mistake building the inference that there could not be intolerance in the Confession, else they would not have given it their sanction; and after referring to well-informed writers among them candidly and frankly admitting this mistake as Mr. Fletcher in his “History of Independency,” and Dr. Sloughton in his work on “The Commonwealth” Dr. Cameron avers, “that the Independents at the time of the Westminster Assembly had not a glimpse of the doctrine of toleration as we now understand it; … that the only toleration the Westminster Independents at any time advocated was toleration for evangelical Christians for those holding all fundamental truth toleration, i.e., for themselves; and that general toleration such as we now have and prize, they one and all loathed the very thought of, as profane in itself, and a sure curse to the community, denouncing its Arminian, Antinomian, and Quaker advocates as the apostles of anarchy, and as the greatest enemies of that limited toleration which alone they desired. In other words, they altogether agreed with the Presbyterian members of the Assembly in their intolerant principle, differing from them only as to the range of its application.” Dr. Cameron concludes thus : “The view which they (the friends opposite) take of the teaching of the Confession, and would impose with a high hand on all, is not the view of our fathers, but a view which, I repeat, these fathers would have recoiled from with horror and loathing. This is true of the Independents eminently true, as I have shown, of the Presbyterians. I make bold to say that if Dr. Begg, and Dr. Gibson, and Dr. Miller had lived in the days of our fathers, they would not have been allowed to sign the Confession of Faith on their understanding of it. (Loud applause.) Faithful men though they reckon themselves, they would not have been allowed to enter the Church of Scotland as ministers. (Continued applause.) I -venture to say further that, if Alexander Henderson, and George Gillespie, and Samuel Rutherford, and Robert Baillie, were living in these days, Dr. Gibson, Dr. Begg, and Dr. Miller, with their views, would not allow them to come, as ministers, into this Free Church of ours. (Loud applause.) And I say yet further, that if, in 1846, when the Act prefixed to the formula was passed, declaring the understanding of the Church as to the teaching of the Confession on the subject of liberty of conscience, if at that time any single minister or member of Assembly had held the good old persecuting doctrine, he would have been as much entitled as Dr. Gibson was yesterday to come and lay a protest on the table of the House (loud applause) against their even proceeding to consider that Act (continued applause) and would have had as good a right, in virtue of that protest, to lay claim to the whole property of the Free Church. (Enthusiastic and prolonged applause.)” *

 I could add to such extracts from Rutherford to almost any extent his Work, a most elaborate apology for persecution, extending to upwards of 400 small quarto pages. But instead of further extracts, I shall try another method of giving some further idea of the Work. I shall do so in notes on a few portions of it, which Dr. Cameron s extracts did not touch.

 Rutherford’s arguments against pretended liberty of conscience are not scanty in number. They amount to sixteen; and almost the whole of them are disposed of by the single remark of the late Dr. M’Crie on them, as they were pleaded by Knox and his contemporaries. They assume, and proceed on, “the untenable opinion that the judicial laws given to the Jewish nation, are binding upon Christian nations, as to all offences against the moral law.” And the residue of his arguments may be disposed of almost as summarily and effectively. The sixteenth, for example, as the abstract of it stands in the margin, is, “Ecclesiastical censures as compulsory as the sword! ” an argument enough to show that, ” a master of Israel,” as Rutherford was, he had not mastered the very elements of the question about which he disputed so freely.

 He cites the Fathers in support of the right and duty of the civil magistrate to persecute. The Emperor Gratian decreed, That all religions should be free : yet his experience in his wars with the Goths made him careful that Ambrose should draw up a short confession, in which he exempted from toleration the Manichees, the Phocinians, and the Eunomians (306). Eusebius records approvingly, that Constantius gave out edicts against heretics, and also made laws of pecuniary fines and mulcts against them. Nazianzen likewise records approvingly the banishment, and other punishments, which Theodosius the Great inflicted on Arius, etc., and their followers. Above all, Augustine asked, Why should sorcerers find the rigour of the law from Emperors, and heretics and schismatics go free ? and he recanted the ” too meek sentence ” he once gave forth, that such religious delinquents should be exempted from capital punishment

Rutherford confirms all that I have said of the persecuting character of the Covenants; expressly contending that the toleration of the Independents, and of other such sectaries, though they were sound in ” fundamentals,” was contrary to the Covenant (267-272); as also to the Ordinances of Parliament in the Covenanting era. He gives several of the latter, which I had passed over in my third Chapter; as the Ordinances of March and October, 1645, in which the Honourable Houses, in rules and directions for suspending from the Lord s Supper, enumerate most of the fundamentals (of the Lord s religion), and evidence that they who profess or teach contrary to these are to be punished; and the Ordinance of February, 1646, in which the Honourable Houses enact, That any person preaching or writing against, or maintaining such errors as subverted, any Articles of the true Protestant religion, and that refused to appear before the Eldership, or obstinately persisted in his error, should be imprisoned by a Justice of the Peace, till he submitted to order (276, 277).

He also confirms me in what I have said on the magistrate s function of judging for others in religious matters. In these matters, according to Principal Cunningham, it is the magistrate s function to judge, not for others, but for himself alone, “with a view to the discharge of his own duty, and the regulation of his own conduct.” But what if he judges that it is his duty to punish me for my religion? If he does, it implies that he has judged for me what the true religion is, and that I ought to have followed his judgment. All that necessarily precedes his judging that it is his duty to punish me for the false religion which he thinks I have followed. So I said (page 154), and Rutherford not only sustains me, but sets the point in a light so clear, that it is hard to mystify it. He lays down that as the magistrate must judge a given deed to be murder, before he punish it as murder, so he must judge a given opinion to be heresy, before he punish it as heresy. To Libertines objecting, That magistrates should not judge what is heresy and what sound doctrine, because that is to be judged according to the Word of God by pastors, he answers, That both magistrates and pastors are to judge; the magistrate judging ” in order to civil punishment, and not in order to the gaining of souls; ” as the pastor, on the other hand, judges in order to spiritual censure, and in order to convert the heretic from the error of his way, and to save a soul from death (329).

Before this “Free Disputation” was published, Jeremy Taylor’s “Liberty of Prophesying,” Roger William s “Bloody Tenet,” Goodwin’s “Hagiomastix and Theomachia,” “Ancient Bounds,” etc., had appeared. All these treatises advocated religious liberty with more or less clearness, consistency, and thoroughness; and it is decisive of the principles of the Disputation that it vigorously attacks them all, and laboriously attempts to refute them.

Passages of Scripture which such writers adduced against intolerance, Rutherford treats with a freedom which would hardly have been borne with in any person who was not known to be a singularly good man, as well as a Professor of Divinity. One who respects the Confession revolts when he sees it corrected on pretence of explaining it; and much more does one who reveres the Word of God revolt when he sees it corrected on the same pretext. The Lord’s answer to James and John when they proposed to command fire to come down from heaven to consume the Samaritans, who did not receive Him, even as Elias did (“But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men s lives, but to save them.” Luke ix.), does look very like a strong condemnation of religious intolerance, as directly antagonistic to the design of His advent, and to the whole genius of His religion. But Rutherford says, No: the quarrel of the disciples with the Samaritan villagers was not about religion at all, but for their inhospitality; and, besides, neither Christ nor His disciples were magistrates! The Jesuit Suarez is quoted with approbation, and he says, “They (the disciples) were not to use violence and threatening against the Samaritans, but to shake the dust off their feet against them; for Christ and His disciples bare not the sword of magistrates” (288-291). The error of the disciples, therefore, did not lie in an intolerant spirit against corrupt religionists, but in forgetting that they were not magistrates! And (shall I put it in words?) the error of the Master lay in talking irrelevantly about “His” not coming to destroy men s lives, but to save them,” when He ought simply to have reminded James and John that He and the twelve were not magistrates !

Again, what the householder, in the parable of the tares, said to his servants when they asked him, “Wilt thou that we go and gather them up?” (“But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest” Matt, xiii.), does look very like a prohibition of disposing of heretics, etc., by cutting them off with the magistrate s sword. But Rutherford says, No: the parable has nothing to do with the magistrate punishing or not punishing heretics, etc. And if it were good divinity, and good logic, to say that the magistrate ought not to anticipate “the harvest ” by cutting off heretics, etc., it were equally good divinity, and good logic, to say that he ought not to anticipate “the harvest” by cutting off murderers, etc.! (236-240).

Yet again, to give one example more, Gamaliel’s counsel in the Sanhedrim with reference to the Apostles Peter and John (“Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.” Acts v.), does look very like a wonderfully sagacious and commendable counsel from the lips of a member of that court. But Rutherford says, No: ” though Libertines suppose Gamaliel’s argument to condemn all use of the sword against false teachers, yet it is only Gamaliel’s rotten dialemma, not the Holy Ghost’s.” If heretics ought to be “let alone,” murderers, parricides, and seditious persons ought also to be “let alone.” So Rutherford contends; and, too easy a task, alas! from among the advocates of persecution he fortifies himself with authorities, who, had they had Gamaliel in their power, would have made him smart for his counsel. “The man,” saith Beza, “was no favourer of the Gospel, but feared the evil that might follow upon the displeasure of the Romans. And Piscator and Gualther say well, It was an evil counsel: Gualther saith, Since the scope of Gamaliel was only to save the apostles from present danger, they abuse this argument who thereby shape all discipline civil and ecclesiastical: for the magistrate bears not the sword in vain, and ought to extirpate heresies by his office. And Calvin saith, It was a sentence unworthy of a wise man, because that which is of God shall stand: Gamaliel’s counsel is null, that therefore the magistrate whom God armed with the sword should do nothing against sin” (281, 282).

Rutherford s answers to objections against his persecuting doctrine are singularly rich and racy. I give two samples, compressing them into a few sentences.

Jeremy Taylor objects, He who persecutes a disagreeing person arms all the world to persecute himself: if he say he is no heretic, he is as confidently believed to be a heretic as he believes his adversary to be one: if it be said, every side must take its venture, this is to make the Christian world a shambles. Rutherford admits that the Christian world is a shambles, through the corruption of men’s nature, but not through his persecuting system. Christian orthodox magistrates, in punishing heretics and seducers, do not arm these against themselves, any more than just magistrates taking away the lives of pirates, robbers, and murderers of other nations, arms these miscreants to take away their lives! (383).

Roger Williams objects, that, on the principles of the persecutors against whom he wrote, Jews and nations that blaspheme Christ must be put to the sword, according to the Scriptures, Exod. xxii. 20, Levit. xxiv. 16, Deut. xiii. Rutherford answers, They must be put to the sword; provided first, that we Christians have magisterial power over the blasphemers, and second, that we have sufficiently, but in vain, instructed them in the doctrine of the Gospel! (386).

 I must draw much more sparely from the writings of the other three Scottish Commissioners. To take Henderson first: Dr. Aiton admits that “to a certain extent, Henderson might have been intolerant in enforcing a conformity of religion in both kingdoms; but this seems to have been the head and front of his offence.” A small offence, apparently, in his biographer s reckoning, but quite sufficient to decide what Henderson s principles were. As was to be expected of the reviser of the National Covenant in 1638, and the projector and framer of the Solemn League and Covenant in 1643, he was for “enforcing conformity of religion” in Scotland and England. He was for the civil magistrate s enforcing it; and this involves the principle of all magisterial persecution in religion. The principle pervades the writings of Henderson which I have seen, and I have seen the most of them; and it was thus carefully and fully expounded by himself in his speech from the Mode rator s chair in the General Assembly of 1638 :

“It well becometh us, his Majesty s subjects convened in this honourable and reverend Assembly, with all thankfulness to receive so full a testimony of his Majesty’s goodness, and not to undervalue the smallest crumbs of comfort that fall to us of his Majesty s liberality. With our hearts do we acknowledge before God, and with our mouths do we desire to testify to the world, how far we think ourselves obliged to our dread Sovereign, wishing that the secret thoughts of our hearts, and the way wherein we have walked in time past, were made manifest to him. It hath been the glory of the Reformed Churches, and we account it our glory in a special manner, to give unto Kings and magistrates what belongs to their places; and, as we know the fifth command of the law to be a precept of the second table, so do we acknowledge it to be the first of that kind, and that, next unto piety towards God, we are obliged to loyalty and obedience to our King. There is nothing due to Kings and princes in matters ecclesiastical, which, I trust, shall be denied by this Assembly to our King; for, beside authority and power in matters civil, to a Christian King belongeth, 1. Inspection over the affairs of the Church, ‘Et debet invigilare non solum super ecclesiasticos, sed super ecclesiastica;’ i.e., He ought to watch not only over ecclesiastical persons, but over ecclesiastical matters. 2. The vindication of religion doth also belong to the King, for whom it is most proper, by his authority, to vindicate religion from all con tempt and abuse, he being keeper also of the first table of the law. 3. The sanctions also are in his Majesty s hand, to confirm, by his royal authority, the constitutions of the Kirk, and give them the strength of a law. 4. His Majesty hath also the power of correction: he both may and ought to compel Kirkmen in the performance of the duties which God requires of them. 5. The coercive power also belongs to the prince, who hath power from God to coerce and restrain, by his terror and authority, from what becometh not their places and callings. 6. The Christian magistrate hath power to convocate assemblies when he finds the pressing affairs of the Church calling for them; and in assemblies, when they are convened, his power is great (1.) As he is a Christian, having the judgment of discretion in all matters debatable and controverted; (2.) As he is a King or magistrate, he must have the judgment of his eminent place and high vocation, to discern what concerns the spiritual welfare and salvation of his subjects; and (3.) As a magistrate singularly gifted with more than ordinary gifts of knowledge and authority,” etc.

I need offer no comment on this quotation; it speaks for itself. Invest the magistrate with all this belonging, “beside authority and power in matters civil;” give him all this inspecting, vindicating, sanctioning, correcting, and coercive power in matters religious; teach him that the vigilant and vigorous exercise of this power is a duty which high heaven has committed to him; and alas ! for the religious liberty of his subjects. There is no room for the shadow of it under such a “civil Pope,” any more than there is under his Holiness of Rome. These were Henderson s principles; and they are the principles, as has been seen, of the Westminster Standards, which he had an honourable share in compiling. In Chapter xxiii. 3 of the Confession, the late Dr. M’Crie could not find “one word about coercion or punishment” There the thing is, as has been proved, and in Henderson’s speech are both word and thing. Persecution is pleaded for as the magistrate’s sacred duty; and that old, honest pleader calls “a spade a spade.” He has no delicacy in speaking of “the magistrate’s compelling men in the performance of the duties which God requires of them; ” of ” coercing and restraining ” them, ” by his terror and authority,” from the omission or the violation of these duties; and of ” giving Kirk constitutions the strength of a law,” which the whole community must obey, if they are not to be rebels against King and Kirk. How men in our day, who hold the venerable Moderator’s principles, and who have so much trouble to get words to disguise and sanctify them, must envy him his liberty of speech!

The principles of the Westminster standards persecuting
William Marshall
pp. 219-237

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