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A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience

Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) - One of the most influential Scottish Presbyterians in the Westminster Assembly.

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“Christ’s honeycombs drop honey and floods of consolation upon my soul; my chains are gold. Were my blackness and Christ’s beauty carded through other, His beauty and holiness would eat up my filthiness. The secret formula of the saints: When I am in the cellar of affliction, I look for the Lord’s choicest wines.”

A Chapter 21 from Samuel Rutherford’s 1649 edition of A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience being: Of the Samaritans, and of the Non Compelling of Heathens; How the Covenant Bindeth Us.

Libertines allege, Luke 9:51,52,53, etc. When Christ by a village of the Samaritans, was dejected and denied James and John Say, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But Christ rebuked them and said, ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of? for the Son of man is not to come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. Then are we to spare the lives of those that refuse the true and sound doctrine of the Gospel, yea who oppugn it, and to admonish them; Celfus saith1, this example is not proposed to compare the Samaritans with heretics, or the Apostles with the Ministers and the Magistrate, but that the benign and meek engine of Christ, in matters of Religion, for if the Apostle had moved the same question touching heretics at that time, Christ would have given the same answer. The Holland Arminians say, if Christ suffered not his Disciples to conceive a desire of revenge from heaven from the only love and zeal of Religion against the Samaritans that denied lodging to him, far less must we believe that he will suffer, that in matters of Religion, for mere conscience any manifest violence should be exercised; for Christ saith, the Spirit that leads you is raging, vehement, fiery, the spirit of my Disciples is not so2. 2. Your spirit seeks to destroy lives, out of a zeal for Religion, the Spirit of the Son of man is for saving, not for destroying of men’s lives. And this general answer of Christ forbids all cruelty in the matters of Religion, saith Celfus. The not burning of the Samaritans doth prove nothing for the immunity of heretics from the sword.

Answ. First, the Libertines must prove from this, that the Disciples made Religion the quarrel, why they would have the Samaritans burnt, and not an inhumane fact of denying against the Law of nature, an act of hospitality to strangers, and that because of the envy between the Jews and Samaritans, Christ seeming to grace Jerusalem, with his presence, then the Samaritans have had a high esteem of Christ, and were offended that so mighty a Prophet should visit their hateful enemies, this was an act of envy rather then an heterodoxy in the faith, or opposing the doctrine of the Gospel.

How far wee may compel other Nations or heathen to embrace the true faith.

2. The Samaritans were yet in their Idolatry and utterly ignorant of the Gospel now we had never a question with Libertines, whether the first thing to be done to such as will not admit Christ or his messengers within their houses; and for the first act of refusing to hear the Gospel, before they be instructed, we are to call for the Magistrates sword to kill them, or for fire from heaven to destroy them? we think no we should think this no way of God to convert them (wee plainly say) It is not lawful to us to go with fire and sword, to force the Indians, Samaritans, or any heathen to embrace the Christian faith, the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, if they be within our power, we may restrain them, 1. From spreading their blasphemies to hurt and seduce the souls of the people of God. 2. We may hinder them from reproaching God or his son Christ in the hearing of the people of God, as David fought against Goliath, who blasphemed the living God. 3. If they do National injuries, and acts of hostility, we may raise arms against them, and in these wars in case of subduing, we may intend the propagating of the Gospel to them, as the Master is to command and teach his servants, Gen. 18:18. Deut. 6:6, the victors having made the subdued people their servants, doe now acquire some masterly power over them to see them instructed in the knowledge of the true God. Nor is the intention of overcoming in a lawful war, the more unlawful, but rather more spiritualized by the accession of a spiritual intention to doe good to their souls, whether wee may by force take their children from them, and train them up in the Christian Religion, is disputable, since their condition of being subdued denudes them not of the natural relation of fathers to sons, or because in so robbing them of their children, we should but spoil them of the actual abuse of that paternal right, which is now conveyed to run in a right channel, to train up young ones in a right way, whereas their parents would employ it to a wrong end, it would seem no violence to the souls of young ones, since nothing is done, but by gracious education and istruction.4. If they joined with us in one Religious Covenant, and we swear with our lives and goods to defend one another, we may cause them stand to the oath of God they were under. As Asa compelled not only Jusay but those of Israel that fell in to him, to stand to the oath; for the Covenant, when it is mutual, giveth a reciprocation of Rights to each Kingdome over the other, for if he that makes a promise to another, much more he that swears a Covenant to another, makes over a right to the other, to plead for the fulfilling thereof, omnis qui promittit facit jus alteri, cui est fact a promissio, ad requirendath promissi implectionem. This is cleare in the Kings covenanting at his coronation with his people, and the people with the King, in the compacts between the master and the hired servant, between two merchants; if this were not, the nerves of all societies, and lawful confederations between man and man, nation and nation should be broken. 2. Omne promissum cadit in debitum, promise becomes debt, and so doth a Covenant.

Of the Covenants obliging of us to the religious observance thereof.

But before I say more of compulsion of heathen, that are without. A word to the wise of forcing within, and of the Covenant, endeavoring of uniformity, not the Prelatical in Ceremonies and canonical obedience, which Familists impute to the Covenant, but Scriptural uniformity in the same faith and form of wholesome words, and eternal worship and ordering of it, which is not indifferent, as Libertines and Familist, who in this are brethren against Presbyterians, the Authors of their breathing in England, (but we intended good to men, not to sects) endeavoring of nearest uniformity in the three Kingdoms, which we did swear is contrary to actual tolerating of all sects and Religions, but the Sectaries endeavor the latter, and have compassed it, ergo, the Sectaries are gone contrary to their Oath and Covenant. The Proposition is evident setting up of all sects and Religions by a Law-toleration, is an endeavoring, yea and actual erecting of the widest multiformity that is, Yea but the Ordinance provides against Antitrinitarians, Socinians, Papists. Answ. There is no provision against them, Papists will say Amen to tolerate them. 2. There is no provision made to try Socinians and Papists whether they be such or no, but the old way of trying them by the Law removed, and no new one established, then are they the same way tolerated, that the Familist, Antinomians, Arminians, Libertines, Enthusiasts, Antiscripturists, Sceptists, Seekers, are tolerated, who all will acquiesce to the Ordinane, as I conceive, and within these few years would have rejoiced at less then the half of it.

A certain Author hat written a Treatise called Ancient bonds3, in which there is little antiquity, less verity, no impartiality, much ignorance, for he neither doth, nor can so much as state the question. And he saith We are to endeavor Reformation of Religion in the three Kingdoms not simply, but according to the word of God, the only pattern and regulation of the best Reformed Churches, and of us, we clip the Covenant of these words.

(Side notes: The word of God as it is in every mans conscience no rule of Reformation in the Covenant. The equivocation of Sectaries in swearing the Covenant.)

Answ. The word of God (say the Familist in their Petition to King James an. 1604.) as we understand it. So as Libertines understand it, and according to their conscience, so the Jews would swear to endeavor a Reformation according to the word of God in the Old Testament, as they understand it, and the Rapist according to the word of God as they understand it, to written and not written and will the Author dare to look God or men in the face and say the words, according to the word of God, is according as every Covenanter understands the word of God, the Prelatical man, the Socinian, Arian, Familist, Antinomian, Seeker, Soparatist, Antiscripruist, Antirinitarian, Arminian? for all these did take the Covenant (if we speak de genere sinculorum) or did those that took the Covenant speak or mean that toleration of all these sects and Reformation, and nearest uniformity can consist, or that he, and all these had this sense under-hand of these words (according to the word of God) that is as Socinians, Libertines, Familist, Antinomians, etc. expound the word of God? If so, we must justify the Jesuits equivocation, and their oaths with mental reservation, for the sense of Prelatical men, and of those that go for Heretics and Schismatickes now as then, to wit, Socinians, Libertines, Arians, Familist, and the rest were known Heretics, and Schismatickes, and their Scoinian, Arrian, Familisticall, etc. sense of the word of God, was excluded in the second Article of the Covenant in these words, We shall–endeavor the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy–Superstition, Heresy, Schism, etc. by this Jesuitical sense, we all swear we shall endeavor to be perjured, and to reform each mans Religion according to his own sense of the word, and whereas in former times it was believed that Christ was God-man. We Familists swear to reform Religion in the three Kingdoms in that part and to teach and profess, that every Saint is so Godded, and Christed, that there is as much of the fullness of the Godhead dwelling in every Saint as in Christ; so that there be as many Saints, as many Christs, and as many Gods manifested in the flesh, as there be Saints, for since liberty of conscience was then not professed, and was a point holden by no Reformed Church, yea not by the Church of New England, the best Reformed Church (as this man saith) but detested by all, it was presupposed that the true sense of the word of God was against it, and Independents who then did swear the Covenant knew our mind, and did swear the preservation of the Reformed Religion in the Church of Scotland in doctrine, worship, and discipline against the common enemy, and they knew Presbyterial Government approves both of the censures of the Church and of the Magistrates sword against heretics, and therefore Tarkes and Pagans would never have sworn a Covenant to endeavor uniformity in one Religion according to the word of God, and after petition the Parliament to set up in England the widest multiformity that Sathan can devise, and say they have sworn to endeavor the nearest uniformity in Religion, and yet to preach and print, and endeavor by the same Covenant, and the word of God the rule of sworn Reformation the widest multiformity, and that the Lord should be one, and his name one in both Kingdoms, and yet that the Lord be two, or ten, and his name, that is, the manners and kinds of Religions be two and twenty, that Gods name may be divided amongst Socinians, Arians, Familists, Antinomians, Anabaptists, Seekers, Antiscripturists, Libertines, Scepticks, Enthysiasts, Brownists, Independents: this is worse then a Popish implicit faith, which we disclaim. Ancient Bonds p. 68

The other thing (saith he) left out which yet refers to all, The Covenant is, that he that swears shall by all lawful ways and means, and according to his place and calling endeavor to perform the Covenant, v. 13. to bring the Churches to uniformity, and to extirpate heresy As for instance, it is the goldy Magistrates duty, their place and calling, to send forth Ministers to the dark places of the land, and to set up lights to guide men’s feet into the ways of truth and peace, and reclaim them from errors: and he cannot be urged upon his calling to punish or compel gainsayers. And the Minister is to doe it in his place by exhorting, rebuking, instructing, but he is to go no further, he is not to deliver men up to judge, and be an executioner. The Author of the Ancient bonds an ignorant prevaricator in the Covenant. Answ. The words by all lawful means and ways, which this man puts in Italian letters, and says are left out by the Author, whom he refutes, may soon be left out, for they were never in the Covenant The man will defend the Covenant and apparently hath sworn it, but I think he hath scarce read it, for these words are not in the Covenant, let him read again. Turpe est doctors sum culpa redarnit ipsum.

2. He swear to bring the Churches to nearest uniformity according to his place, but when this man defends the toleration of all the sects in England, Socinians, Arians, Familists, for he writing anno. 1645 when above twenty sundry Religions in England came to the streets, he excepts not one in all his Treatise, but calls them all the godly party, Saints, Brethren, the Godly, and owns them so, in his preface and whole book. He must grant there is no uniformity in faith, discipline, worship, by the word of God, for if all these be Saints, Godly and holy Brethren, they have all one faith, and are saved, but let him tell me, by the next, if he can answer, whether there is a nearest, or any uniformity in faith, worship, and government between Presbyterians, and Socinains, Familists, Antinomians, and Seekers, yet this man swears to endeavor the nearest conjunction and uniformity amongst all the Saints who are to be tolerated, but let him say, if he hath, in this case ingenuity on learning, what nearest uniformity he knows amongst all these, whether the Covenant should not oblige a Libertine to endeavor the widest (pg. 254) and deformity of religions amongst these, and to plead for forbearance of them all as he expoundeth it.

(Side note: Al moral compelling of heretics, and refuting of false teachers by the word, is as unlawful as compulsion by the sword, according to the principles of Libertines.)

3. But wee are (saith he) to endeavor by all lawful means and ways, the nearest uniformity among the Churches, and the only lawful way, as he thinks is not by force, but by rebuking, instructing, exhorting, and by no weapons, but only by the word of God. But since this Author and all the Nation of Libertines go upon this principle, Religion is not to be compelled by force, for we are not infallible, and those whom we force as heretics may be no heretics, for ought we know, but as sound in the faith as our selves. Then we have no faith, nor any well grounded persuasion of the word of God, to refute them by the words and we refute them not of faith, but sinfully and erroneously, for they may be as sound in the faith, as we our selves, for ought wee know, and this is a strong argument against moral ways of gaining heretics by the power of the word, for if they may be sound in the faith, and we the heretics, though we refute them by the word, we may be perverting the right ways of God and fight against Christ, as Elimas; for Elimas only by moral ways, not by force or violence labored to pervert the faith of Sergius Paulus, and it is not apparent that Elimas was persuaded in his conscience, that the Gospel Paul preached was the truth of God, and so by no means, lawful or unlawful, by force, or by the word of God, are we to endeavor uniformity, for our endeavoring is not of faith, nor from the real ground of the word, but from mere opinions and conjectures, for it may by (say Libertines) that all those whom wee refute as heretics, be sound in the faith, and we, not they the heretics, and those whom we refute, are as much obliged in faith to refute us as we to refute them. So I see not how Libertines can use so much as moral compelling of Heretics. For 1. They cannot compel them with the sword to forsake their heresies, because the sword bearer being fallible knoweth them not to be heresies, they may be necessary truths for him. Erga, because the Pastor is no more infallible then the Magistrate, the Pastor with certainty of faith cannot say, thus saith the Lord. Jezabel is a false Prophetesse, Hymeneus and Phyletus depart from the faith, for Jeabel, Hymeneus and Philetus may be sound in the faith, and this Pastor who refuted them, the false heretic, for there is no peremptory and imposing decision of any of these, till the last judgment, since now the infallible Prophets and Apostles are dead. 2. Upon this ground, ye cannot eschew any as heretic after twice admonishing him of his heresy, for ye have no faith, nor divine certainty, it is an heresy that he holdeth, it may be you who admonish him are the heretic: only upon opinion you admonish him. 3. You cannot rebuke any Heretic sharply, that he may be sound in the faith, for you are not infallible in the bestowing of the lashing of your tongue on a heretic, more then the Magistrate in beating him with the sword, and your rebuking of him may be heretical and unjust, and he the man sound in the faith. Upon the same ground you cannot admonish and instruct him in faith. Nor, 5. Call the opinion of the Magistrate coercing of men with the sword for their conscience, a bloody tenet and persecution of the Saints. Nor, 6. Can you in faith refute him lodging in your house, and all your 7. Saying in the pulpit, such a way of Familisme is a way of heresy, is not resolved in, thus saith the Lord, by such preacher, but such a preacher so thinketh, possibly fancies, that the Lord saith such a way is heresy. And by the same reason what ever pastors preach, especially except it be two or three fundamentals which all Christians, Papists, Socinians, Lutherans, Protestants, Familists, Arminians, Seekers, etc. Is but the dictates of their own conscience, and so they preach, so they believe, and so they profess not, because God so saith, but because their conscience so dictates to them. And here is the Libertines Creed, Me thinks Christ died for sinners, the dead shall be raised, etc. And so Libertines are very Papists in this, and resolve our faith into the testimony of men, the conjectures of the conscience.4 So he goes on He expounds uniformity and nearest conjunction, to be absolute conjunction and identical. If we be agreed of the same Church Officers with the reformed Churches, and have cast out the old Usurpers, cashiered the Common-prayer book, Ceremonies, Alters, Crucifies (all which we have don by the Covenant) do we not save our Covenant, though we cast not our Churches into such Classical provincial, or national forms.

(Side note: The Magistrate as the magistrate cannot send ministers but in a compulsory way.)

Answ. Nor do we plead for absolute identity in doctrine, and worship, but endeavor it we ought. But how I pray you doth the Magistrate (for that I had almost forgot) send Ministers to rebuke, exhort and reclaim men from their errors, but not compel gainsayers? The Magistrate (I am sure) sent not Paul and Barnabas it was not so from the beginning, in the Apostolic Church there were no Parliament Ministers. But it may be the Author means a political civil sending of Ministers to extirpate heresies. But be it so, all Magisterial sending of Magistrates is a commanding of them by the sword in a compulsive way, that they go preach against Familisme, Socinianisme, Arrianisme. But if so, good Sir remember yourself, the Magistrate, as the Magistrate doth not request, and morally by the power of the word (for he hath not any such Spiritual Armour, I conceive, for his warfare) entreat, and say, good Pastors, I beseech you go preach against St. Del, Randal, Saltmarsh and other Familists, and extirpate their heresies; private men so send Pasotrs, but as a Magistrate he must say, I command you go preach against these heresies, under the pain of bearing the vengeance of my sword, now if the Pastors reply, Good Master Judge, we cannot doe that, for we think Familisme a new glorious discovery of spirit, and Mr. Saltmarsh hath beaten out of the Scriptures, new sparkles of glory and flowings of free grace, Familisme is no heresy. If the Magistrate notwithstanding by his place and calling send these, and command them to go and extirpate Familisme, doth he not compel the consciences of these pastors he sends? what doe ye then talk of no compelling? for what ever the Magistrate by his place doth command which is lawful, if Ministers or any other refuse to obey, he may use the sword against them. Ye cannot say, if it be a matter of conscience he cannot compel them to doe it by his place: then (say I) by his place he cannot command them neither. Beside that, this answer is, directly against the words of the Covenant, if every man in like manner. Art. 2 Be to endeavor the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy Heresy and Schism, in his several places and callings, as the Author saith, this regress to the whole obligation of each person respectively. Then is the Magistrate according to his place and calling, which is to bear the sword, to compel with the sword, the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy, Heresy and Schism, and what hath the Author gained by this gloss, which I conceive is the true gloss except he mean the Magistrate, as the Magistrate should lay aside his sword and fall to prayers, requests, obtestatons, that heretics would lay aside their errors and preach sound doctrine, but now he doth so pray and request, not according to his place, as a Magistrate, but according to his vocation as a Saint and a Christian, which yet crosses the Covenant, and makes the Parliament not as the supreme Court of Judges to take the Covenant, but as so many private Christians.

2. If so, the Judges are not in their respective places to take the Covenant, nor endeavor the extirpation of heresy, because that is against the word of God, but then by what authority or calling did the Parliament cast our Old Usurpers, the Prelates, cashier the Service book, Ceremonies, Alters, and Crucifixes? Either as a Parliament, and so by the sword: is not here yet the Prelates conscience squeezed to the blood? is not here highest violence done to the consciences of high alter men and adorers of crucifixes? Why to them more then to Familist? But if this was done by request, and words of butter and oil from the Parliament and Committee-men, then are Ordinances of Parliament but mere requests to the subjects. But it is prtoestio coniraria facie. He addeth, if these words (we shall endeavor the extirpation of Schism, and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine, etc.) be leveled only against the Congregational men, it was not faire to draw them into a Covenant to destroy themselves. Its disservice to the State, to spoil the State of so many Godly and brave men, and seems to be but the birth of that challenge against these men (to be the Sandballets and Tobias of this present work) and is the highest breach of love.5

How Independents were ensnared by Presbyterians to take the Covenant as the lying Authors

Answ. It is apparent the Congregational men he meaneth are the Independents, who would have their Churches gathered out of true Churches. Who will not be called Schismatics, as if ensis and gladius were not one thing, then this Author leveled these words against Presbyterians, as the Schismatics, for where ever one Church is rent from another true Church, one of the two is the Schismatic Church; sure but the Author will not have Independents the Schismatics, then was it faire to level these words in the Covenant against Presbyterians, and draw them in a Covenant to destroy both their soul and body?

2. The Congregational men were not drawn, but they came to another Kingdome with faire words to draw Presbyterians in a Covenant, and said, and swore to endeavor uniformity, and yet practice this day multiformity of Religions and have put to the sail, the blood of many gallant men in Scotland, that so they may buy with their lives, cursed Liberty of Conscience. But will it not be bitterness in the end?

3. The Author hints at a story that fell out in the Assembly of Divines where I was witnessed, Mr. Phillip Nye having sworn to endeavor the preservation of Presbyterian government in the Covenant, was pleased in the face of the Assembly in the Hearing of that renowned General of England, for the time, the Earle of Essex, and many other honorable and noble persons, to declaim against Presbyterial government, as formidable to States and free Kingdoms, as of old some called Jerusalem the rebellious City, and the Prelates the same way burdened the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland but Mr. Alexander Henderson, a man for piety, learning, prudency and singular moderation, from zeal, not from the Spirit of gall and wormwood, as the Author slanderously speaketh, said they were the words of Tobiah and Sandballet, to hinder the work of Reformation; now whether that worthy man spake what hath now come to pass, let the godly Divines of the Assembly be judge.

4. We know now service to the State done by these men, but that they set up with the sword all the blasphemous and heretical Sect and Religions that The Muncer or John of Leydon fancied contrary to the oath of God, for they all professed they were for the Covenant, many of them did swear it, with what conscience to perform, let Cromwell and others speak, God will not be mocked, which is such disservice to the State of England as cannot but draw down from heaven the vengeance of the Lord, and the vengeance of his Temple upon the land; or was it fair when the Congregational men did hide their conclusion of liberty of conscience, would keep that intended Idol in the bottom of their heart, and join in Covenant with Presbyterians, and swear against multiformity of Religions in words, known to be contrary to sense and reason, and the same words of the Covenant, and now obtrude on us multiformity for uniformity.

5. The Author insinuates as much, as not to give them liberty of conscience, as a reward of their valorous fighting, is disservice to the State. But ingenuous workman speak of their wages, before they engage the work, but to keep up any word of liberty of conscience until the work be ended, and it come to disbanding, is no fair bargaining, but rather in plain English, either fell to us Law, Liberties, Religion, and give them to us beside our arrears, or we must be a perpetual standing Army to govern England, and manage Religion with the sword, and to set up all Religions, and destroy the Covenant and the Protestant faith, and live upon the sweat of other men’s browes.6

The Covenant with a faire interpretation may be urged against Presbyterians, and for the Congregational way, as well as otherwise. The Covenant binds no man, nor number of men to State or Church for their parts respectively, to any pattern or degree of Reformation, conformity or uniformity with other Churches, but what shall satisfactorily to them and each of their consciences, appear to be according to the word of God; and such a Reformation doe the Congregational men desire, pray, preach, endeavor for and after, in the pursuance of the Covenant, as if there had been no such outward Covenant obliging them, would ye have men driven in droves to the Sacrament still, and the precious and the vile mixed? and Idol-Shepherds suffered? and Bishops Courts, and Consistories continued? had these been beaten down, had not we under God, as a forlorn hope first given them battle? how can ye say, we hinder Reformation? when we are for a further purer Reformation (yourselves being judges?) you would sit down on this side Jordan, we would advance? Sit you quiet, if you will not help us, as we helped you.

Answ. When you of the Congregational way, that is, of the Church way (for none are Churches but you, we are excommunicated, and all else but your selves) did swear to endeavor the preservation of the Reformed Religion in the Church of Scotland in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, which to your consciences, and all the Reformed Churches is Presbyterian, can the Covenant be turned against Presbyterians, as well as against you? How Independents swear to defend the Presbyterian government, and with tongue, pen, sword, cry out as it, as Tyrannical, Antichristian, and Popish.

2. You write and preach that the government Presbyterian, is Popish, Antichristian, more tyrannical then that of Babel, of Egypt, so all your way, and particularly Mr. Burton in his Conformities deformity, and your Independents in the Assembly, yet you did swear to endeavor its preservation, and all the Independents in both Houses spake against it as tyrannical, and have voted to clog it with Erastianisme, I would believe Erastus, if he had sworn to endeavor the preservation of it, better then your oath. I think Pagans would not swear to endeavor the preservation of any religious way which with tongue, pen, laws, and sword, they endeavor to undo and extirpate, see if distinctions will defend it against the common enemy, and whether these words, according to the word of God expounded by you, will save you from the quarrel and wrath of God for a broken Covenant? Pass over the Isles, and go to Turkey, to America, and see if such a thing as this hath been?

2. The Covenant binds no man (saith he) to any degree of Reformation, but what shall satisfactorily appear to each mans conscience to be according to the word of God. 1. Then the Reformed Religion in Scotland, in doctrine, worship, and government according to the word of God, appeared once satisfactorily to your conscience to be according to the word of God, so you took the Covenant, yet ye say it is Antichristian, it drives men in droves to the Sacrament, it is the Bishops Courts and Consistories continued. But ye did swear to endeavor the preservation of their Reformed Religion according to the word of God the only rule. But if it was sworn to as the Reformed Religion, was it not according to the word of God? is it reformed, and not according to the word of God? or was these words according to the word of God; A condition, insinuating what is in the doctrine and discipline of the Reformed Religion of the Church? not according to the word of God, to that you did not swear. But so if the Turk should come and wage war against Papists for their Religion, and a heathen people that maintains there be more Gods then one, and that the Old Testament is not the word of God, should raise Arms against the Jews, you might as well swear you should defend the doctrine of the Church of Rome, and the Religion of the Jews against the Turk, and those heathen people according to the word of God; for sure these fundamentals that Jews and Papists hold in doctrine are according to the word of God, and so you did swear no otherwise to defend the Reformed Religion of the Church of Scotland then that of the Church of England, before these troubles arose for that ye swore to defend in so far as it agrees with the word of God, yea so ye did swear to defend any Religion of any Nation you never heard of, according to the word of God, if you say, But we knew that Reformed Religion of the Church of Scotland, therefore ye might swear to it, but ye know not all the Religions of any Nation you never heard of. But if so, then ye knew the Reformed Religion of Scotland to be according to the word of God, then it appeared satisfactorily to your conscience so to be. But did their fundamentals against Familists, Antiscripturaists, Socinians, Arians, so appear to your conscience to be according to the word of God, and their Antichristian and tyrannical Presbyteries, that are but, as you say, Episcopal Courts and Consistories appear to be so, and that satisfactorily to your consciences if so, why judge ye Familists, Socinians, such as deny the Trinity, and such as make all the Saints to be Christ, and Goded with the indwelling fullness of God, to be Gods manifested in the flesh, to be Saints, brethren, the godly party to be indulged? then you must question the fundamentals of the doctrine of Scotland, and they did not satisfactorily appeared to your conscience to be according to the word of God. And why did you simply without any limitation swear to endeavor the preservation of the Reformed Religion? you should have said, truly Reformed Religion of the Church of Scotland; and why did you swear simply to the doctrine, worship, discipline and government of the Church according to the word of God? when ye knew then, as now, their government was Antichristian, and not according to the word of God? and their doctrine even in fundamentals not so sure but Socinians, Arians, and the Saints your brethren the Familists may hold the contrary, and be tolerated as Saints, and their doctrine, though opposite in fundamentals to ours, may be as satisfactory truths to your conscience as ours of Scotland. Confess and glorify God, you swear the Covenant in a Jesuitical reserved sense, kept up in your mind, as you insinuate pag.66,67. and such as the words cannot bear. Libertines make conscience, not the word of God their rule.

3. There is here a new Trick put on the Covenant, it binds to no truth but what shall appear satisfactorily to the conscience of each swear to be according to the word of God. If a Merchant promise and swear to a simple man to give him for such wares an hundred pounds, he gives him but an hundred pounds Scotch, whereas the wares are to the man as dear as an hundred pounds Starling, is the Merchant absolved of his oath and promise, if he pay him but an hundred pounds Scotch? and say, it appears satisfactorily to my Antinomian conscience the wares are of no more value then a hundred pound Scotch, and my oath and promise obliges me to no more then satisfactorily appeareth to any conscience the only rule of my obligation, to be according to equity and justice, and so you are fully paid with an hundred pounds Scotch.7

(Side note: How Appearing to the conscience make no the word of God to be the obliging rule, but only as touching the right and due manner of being obliged thereby.)

So this Author absolves us from all oaths and covenants, though we swear not to kill a captive taken in war, and swear to adhere to the fundamentals that there is one God, Christ is the one only Mediator, God and man, consubstantial with the father, yet if after you have talked with Saltmars, or put your faith in the power of the sophisms of a cunning Jesuit, he makes it satisfactorily appear to your conscience that it is according to the word of God that the captive be killed, he is a murderer, and there be as many Mediators, as there be Saints in heaven, and as many Christs Godded with the fullness of the Godhead, as there be Saints of the family of love, and so your oath to your fundamentals obliges you not and you are guilty of no perjury though first you swear to the necessary truths of God, and now ye turn apostate from both faith and oath. Libertines infuse such a magic in your erroneous conscience that it is your only rule, and displaceth the Law of nature from all obligation, or the word of God the only rule of faith and manners, you are tied no longer by the oath of God, then your weather-cock-conscience, with this new Moon, hath caught a new light, you are as if there had been no such outward Covenant obliging you, take it upon the word of this Gamaliel, dormii secure in utramque aurem. But though it be true, nothing doth oblige, but it must appear to be according to the word of God, that it may oblige in the right and due manner and way, yet it is most false that it obliges, as it shall appear, or quatenus, because it doth appear to the conscience to be the word of God, for a quatenus ad binne valet consequentia. Then every thing obliges, as it appears to be the word of God to the conscience most erroneous, then are some obliged to murder the innocent Apostles; for it appears satisfactorily to their conscience to be the word of God, and service to God so to doe, Job 16:1. and some are obliged to sacrifice their sons to God, though they did vow and covenant the contrary in Baptism, for it appears satisfactorily to their conscience, it is according to the example of Abraham, to offer their sons to God, except God from heaven forbid them as he did Abraham.

5. To Libertines no Covenants nor Oaths of the most lawful things lays on any more obligation to performance, then if these Oaths had never been made, if the erroneous conscience gainsay.

6. You did know the discipline of the Church of Scotland debars not all from the Sacrament, except known unregenerate persons; ye knew their Consistories to be hateful to the common enemies, why then did you swear to defend them against the common enemy, since both to your conscience and the common enemy they are contrary to the word of God.

7. You durst not give the first battle to Bishops, Scotland gave it to them, when your Grandees were as low as shrubs, as feared as Harts.

8. You hinder Reformation, your Independents wrought with all their power, there should be no Assembly, and that no old non-conformists, such as sound and learned. Mr. Ruthband, gracious and zealous Mr. Ash, and others, to be members thereof, and would rather have had Prelatical Conformists in the Assembly then they. You join with all the Sectaries, who are against Covenant, Government, Confession of faith, and Directory of worship, retarded the proceedings of the Assembly; we heard often in Scotland, you wished Prelacy were gone, if ye knew what to put in its place as if no Government known to you could fit England but Prelacy, and that of the Reformed Churches were not so good.

9. You would go further on then we, and be over Jordan, but we had rather sit down on this side of Jordan, as go over with you, for ye was not well over, when ye set up at the Kings house Idolatrous bowing to Altars, and the abjured Masse-book, and Familists, Socinians, Antinomians, Seekers, Arians, preaching Soldiers, who teach as many Saints, as many Christs and Gods manifested in the flesh, and when these perverters of the right ways of God were silenced by a godly Preacher at London, they prayed woe with learning, it opposes all the ways of God; and is that a Reformation on the other side of Jordan, which sends out Apostles to preach that are blind as Moles in the principles of the single Catechism, who know not whether there be one God, and one Mediator Christ, or millions of Gods and Christs, yet these are the only anointed ones. It were good that such a Reformation were over Jordan, and millions of miles beyond America.


1. Minus Celfus de heretic cocrecudis 24.

2. Remonstrants Belg ci. Apol. c.24 p.279. 3. Ancient bonds c.10.sect.3. p. 67.68. 4. p. 76.69. 5. p.69.70. 6. pag.70,71. 7. So Remonstrantes in vindicies Apol.1.2.c.6.135,136. neminem, post quam acceptavit decretum, (this Author, post quam acceptavit juramentum) ieneri illo diutius quam ea lege qua enus & quimdin iple in coiscientia sua judicat iliud esse verura.

Excerpted from: A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience by Samuel Rutherford, being chapter 21 (a SWRB rare bound photocopy [1649], reprinted 1993).

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Christian Directions by Rev. Samuel Rutherford

  1. That hours of the day, less or more time, for the Word and prayer, be given to God; not sparing the twelfth hour, or mid-day, howbeit it should then be the shorter time.
  2. In the midst of worldly employments, there should be some thoughts of sin, death, judgment, and eternity, with at least a word or two of ejaculatory prayer to God.
  3. To beware of wandering of heart in private prayer.
  4. Not to grudge if ye come from prayer without sense of joy. Downcasting, sense of guiltiness, and hunger, are often best for us.
  5. That the Lord’s Day, from morning to night, be spent always either in private or public worship.
  6. That words be observed, wandering and idle thoughts be avoided, sudden anger and desire of revenge, even of such as persecute the truth, be guarded against; for we often mix our zeal with our wild-fire.
  7. That known, discovered, and revealed sins, that are against the conscience, be avoided, as most dangerous preparatives to hardness of heart.
  8. That in dealing with men, faith and truth in covenants and trafficking be regarded, that we deal with all men in sincerity; that conscience be made of idle and lying words; and that our carriage be such, as that they who see it may speak honourably of our sweet Master and profession.

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