Introducing the Old School Presbyterians: Stuart Robinson

I’ve been wondering. Do contemporary Reformed Protestants read Old School Presbyterians — at all?

Over at Green Baggins where a fiesty exchange of slings and arrows — count ’em, over 1,300 comments and climbing — over 2k has diverted what could have been a good conversation about the value of polemical theology I posted the following excerpt from Stuart Robinson’s The Church of God An Essential Element of the Gospel. I have wondered for a while whether neo-Calvinists and transformers have actually ever considered what were standard argument and distinctions like the one that Robinson here makes. And if they had read the Old School, would they be flummoxed by today’s 2k arguments? Even more, what level of shock set in for neo-Calvinists and transformers to learn that they have more in common with New School Presbyterians like Charles Finney and Albert Barnes than with Charles Hodge or Samuel Miller. Although my pasting this quote has led the crickets to chirp very loudly, it is one worth highlighting here.

1. In that the civil power derives its authority from God as the Author of nature, whilst the power ecclesiastical comes alone from Jesus as Mediator.

2. In that the rule for the guidance of the civil power in its exercise is the light of nature and reason, the law which the Author of nature reveals through reason to man; but the rule for the guidance of ecclesiastical power in its exercise is that light which, as Prophet of the Church, Jesus Christ has revealed in his word. It is a government under statute laws already enacted by the King.

3. They differ in that the scope and aim of the civil power are limited properly to things seen and temporal; the scope and aim of ecclesiastical power are things unseen and spiritual. Religious is a term not predicable of the acts of the State; political is a term not predicable of the acts of the Church. The things pertaining to the kingdom of Christ are things concerning which Caesar can have rightfully no cognizance, except indirectly and incidentally as these things palpably affect the temporal and civil concerns of men; and even then Csesar cannot be too jealously watched by the Church. The tilings pertaining to the kingdom of Csesar are matters of which the Church of Christ as an organic government can have no cognizance, except incidentally and remotely as affecting the spiritual interests of men; and even then the Church cannot watch herself too jealously.

4. They differ in that the significant symbol of the civil power is the sword; its government is a government of force, a terror to evil-doers; but the significant symbol of Church power is the keys, its government only ministerial, the functions of its officers to open and close and have a care of a house already complete as to its structure externally, and internally organized and provided.

5. They differ in that civil power may be exercised as a several power by one judge, magistrate, or governor; but all ecclesiastical power pertaining to government is a joint power only, and to be exercised by tribunals. The Head of the government has not seen fit to confer spiritual power of jurisdiction in any form upon a single man, nor authorized the exercise of the functions of rule in the spiritual commonwealth as a several power.

6. It is unnecessary to digress here into a discussion of the rationale of these fundamental distinctions. It would not be difficult to show, however, that they are neither accidental nor arbitrary, but spring out of those fundamental truths concerning the nature of the Church itself, and of its relations to the gospel, which have already been pointed out. These distinctions, therefore, are of a nature to forbid all idea of any concurrent jurisdiction, and to render certain the corruption and final apostasy of any part of the Church which shall persist in the attempt to exist as a governmental power concurrent with the State,—it matters not whether as superior, inferior, or equal. They are the two great powers that be, and are ordained of God to serve two distinct ends in the great scheme devised for man as fallen. The one is set up, in the mercy and forbearance of the Author of nature toward the apostate race at large, to hold in check the outworking of that devilish nature consequent upon the apostasy, and to furnish a platform, as it were, on which to carry on another and more amazing scheme of mercy toward a part of mankind. The other is designed to constitute of the families of earth that call upon his name, and into the hearts of which his grace has put enmity toward Satan and his seed, a nation of priests, a peculiar nation, not reckoned among the nations, of whom Jehovah is the God and they are his people. That not only the utter disregard of this distinction in the formal union of the Church and State—either merging the Church in the State or the State in the Church—is ” destructive of the Church, but that, also, any degree of confusion in respect of this distinction is proportionally dangerous and corrupting, the history of the Reformed Churches generally, and in particular of the Church of Scotland, is a most striking illustration. Nay, the entire history of the Church, from its first organization, testifies that his people must render to Csesar the things that are Caesar’s, as distinct from rendering to God the things that are God’s, or the Church suffers. (pp. 86-87)

How radical is this if the OPC has reprinted this book?

9 thoughts on “Introducing the Old School Presbyterians: Stuart Robinson

  1. So clear and so concise. 2k teaching which I had never heard of till a few months ago has been the final blow that has brought down my Anglican past. And now what are the options in England? Travel 160 miles round trip to a Presbyterian church or start a church plant. To prayer, me thinks. Thanks.


  2. I find it quite interesting that both Dr. Hart and myself recommend Stuart Robinson’s book on the same day. My purpose in recommending Robinson may differ but I find it worthwhile to note that I can say “amen” to this without any hesitation. Though I am not sure of the pagination here because my OPC copy has page 86 be the end of a chapter and page 87 being the beginning of Robinson’s “Concluding Observations”. Page 65 -67of the OPC edition is where one can find the quote provided by Dr. Hart. Also getting an amen from this gentleman is, “[civil and ecclesiastical powers] have nothing in common except both powers are of divine authority, both concern the race of mankind, and both were instituted for the glory of God as a final end.”

    Where we differ Dr. Hart (and probably Rev. Robinson, but I don’t know more than what is in this book, which is a shame because Rev. Robinson was a ministerial colleague of my Great-Great-Great Grandfather in the Presbytery of Greenbrier in what was then and still should be Virginia) is in what is the content of “reason” and “nature” and how much it differs from Special Revelation.


  3. Ben, thanks for the pagination clarification. I was using the old edition.

    You’re likely right — that great minds think alike. And also that reason and nature are the debatable points. What I find interesting though is that those words did not become debatable among the Reformed until Kuyper and his followers. I am not blaming everything on Kuyper. But the way the Dutch Reformed used post-Kantian idealism is a topic that needs further investigation.


  4. Dr. Hart,

    Have you read R.A. Webb at all? He was a R2K Southern Presbyterian theologian in the late 1800s.


  5. I can’t help but note that the OPC edition is stunning, especially for $10. P&R et al. should be worried.


  6. I just started reading “A Kingdom Not of This World: Stuart Robinson’s Struggle to Distinguish the Sacred from the Secular During the Civil War” by Preston D. Graham. Much of Robinson’s writing is so timely even today.

    Liked by 1 person

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