We're Not In Scotland Anymore

Crawford Gribben explains why:

This reading of Rutherford’s Free Disputation, set in the context of its times, challenges any idea that the modern, politically passive Presbyterian main- stream can be identified either with the theology of the Westminster Confession or that of its most influential divines.'”s Rutherford’s commitment to shaping an entirely Presbyterian world, where public deviations from orthodox faith or practice should be met with the most severe of legal consequences, is a world away from the political complacency of modern evangelicalism and the self- justifying myth it sponsors of the pluralistic benevolence of the Scottish Cove- nanting movement. Rutherford did believe in “liberty of conscience,” but, as the Confession argued, this was a liberty that provided no license to sin (WCF 20.3-4).

It is certainly true that we cannot simply read the Confession as a summary statement retaining the unqualified approval of all those who participated in its negotiation. The final text of the Confession was “a consensus statement, broad enough to be agreed with by Divines who held somewhat different views of the contemporary applications of the Mosaic judicial laws.” Rutherford seems to stand at one extreme of the Assembly’s range of opinions, arguing, with the apparent approval of the Commission of the Kirk’s General Assembly, that the OT judicial laws ought indeed to be the basis of the Presbyterian state for which they were working. Nevertheless, it is important to realize that Rutherford’s theonomic opinions were shared by many puritans who could not have endorsed his narrow ecclesiastical ambitions. Even those who favored a broader toleration of those orthodox Calvinists outside the Presbyterian system looked to the OT judicial laws as their program of action. Cromwell’s Rump Parliament established the death penalty for incest, adultery, and blasphemy.'” John Owen was prepared to argue that some of the judicial laws were “everlastingly binding.” The Fifth Monarchist radicals were famous exponents of a Hebraic legal renaissance.

However we understand the text and context of the Westminster Confession, therefore, we must recognize that the Confession is not committed to the separation of church and state in any modern understanding of that idea. The doctrine of the “two kingdoms,” where church and state operated independently but with mutual reliance on the law of God, did not at all favor a religiously neutral state. Thus the Confession charged the state with the highest of responsibilities: “The Civil Magistrate. . . hath Authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that Unity and Peace be preserved in the Church, that the Truth of God be kept pure, and intire; that all Blasphemies and Heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in Worship and Discipline prevented, or reformed; and all the Ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed” (WCF 23.3). (Crawford Gribben, “Samuel Rutherford and Freedom of Conscience,” Westminster Theological Journal, 2009, 372-73)

All that pining for Constantine or Christendom that you hear from Peter Leithart or Doug Wilson should always evaporate after a weekend with Rutherford or the Stuart monarchs.

10 thoughts on “We're Not In Scotland Anymore

  1. I read an article yesterday about how more and more young women are choosing to have dogs rather than kids. I also read the first half of the lawsuit against Doug Phillips. Throw the death penalty for adultery into this mix and it would be a miracle if young women got within 10 feet of young men. Better to choose celibacy (or strong birth control) and avoid them altogether.


  2. Thank you for essentially publicly admitting that you’ve merely hijacked the phrase “two kingdoms,” and wrested it from any semblance of its historical context.

    Hope to see you next week.


  3. Putting the Two-Kingdoms Establishmentarianism of Rutherford in the same category as the Hobbesian Anglo-Erastianism of the Stuarts makes for good polemics in the ecclesiastical game of thrones, but very poor historical scholarship.


  4. Bobby, so you’re saying the Cameronians didn’t waffle over the Stuarts (not exactly in the model of King David) because the James and Charles dangled the Covenant before the arch-Presbyterians?


  5. You were up too late last night, D.G. The Cameronians were a specific subspecies of Covenanters who did not arise until the 1680s and “waffled” over nothing with respect to either of the Jameses who ruled during that century. What you were trying to think of were the Engagers and the Kirk Party, the first of which Rutherford was staunchly opposed to and the second of which he sided with. But that was not “waffling” on Rutherford’s part or the Covenanters as a whole. It was the rise and fall of one Covenanter subfaction that was willing to trust Charles I’s secret promises, which gave way to the rise and downfall of another Covenanter subfaction that distrusted secret treaties but was willing to hazard a public treaty with Charles II.

    But even the Engagers, politically stupid as *they* were, did not yoke themselves to Charles I’s previous policies. Rather, they expected him to concede to *their* policies in exchange for the Crown. They weren’t trying to “go back to the Stuarts.” They and the Kirk Party were trying to get the ousted Stuarts to come over to them. (Apparently, it never occurred to them that if the morally meticulous Puritans weren’t going to keep the Solemn League & Covenant, then the Stuarts were an even worse bet.) Call them naïve if you will, and bristle privately till the sun sets over not-too-subtle suggestions from your opponents that the modern “Two Kingdoms” fad is really just Crypto-Anabaptism, but do not return an eye for an eye by classing them with the Stuarts.


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