Samuel Rutherford And Liberty Of Conscience -- By: Crawford Gribben

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 71:2 (Fall 2009)
Article: Samuel Rutherford And Liberty Of Conscience
Author: Crawford Gribben


Samuel Rutherford And Liberty Of Conscience

Crawford Gribben

Crawford Gribben is Long Room Hub Senior Lecturer in Early Modern Print Culture at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

In Edinburgh, on 18 January 1649, members of the Commission of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met to consider their response to the most serious danger faced by their covenanted reformation, the “teeming freedom” and “teeming truth” of religious toleration in England.1 Fearing that some of the English radicals were pushing back the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy, while others were actually converting to Judaism and Islam, Samuel Rutherford, James Guthrie, John Livingstone, and Patrick Sharp were among the Commission members who adopted “the Testimony against the errours and practises of Sectaries” and agreed that its contents be urgently communicated to both the English Parliament and London Presbyterian leaders.2 Their letter to the ministers invested the Scottish program of covenanted reformation with a distinctly eschatological momentum, and implied that the longed-for millennial glory of the latter days would only come through the English administration’s returning to the obligations of the Covenant through the erection of a national Presbytery.3 The Commission opposed the London Parliament’s growing interest in toleration because, they believed, political and religious pluralism delayed the settlement they anticipated and sowed confusion among the elect: “When in the Kirk of Christ there is not on [sic] Lord, on Faith, on Baptisme, there must arise many false Christs and false prophets.”4 The Scots appealed to their English brethren to reject the ideology of toleration with

which their Parliament was flirting. Instead of countenancing error, the English clergy and politicians should

give seasonable warning to all the Kingdome of the sad and dangerous consequences of Irreligious and Licentious Tolleration [sic] of all Religions, the Idoll of indignation in that land that provocketh the eyes of His glorie, of altering the ancient and well established Government of the Kingdome, of the horrible blasphemies, heresies, and errors now abounding in the land, of Anarchie, abolishing of Magistracie, the sacred ordinance of God, which we cannot but look on as the beginning of woes, a seminarie of all violence, unjustice, and oppressions, the continueing and increasing of the troubles of Britane, the utter dissolving of all humane societies, the r...

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