Mr. Rutherford's Testimony to the Covenanted Work of Reformation - by Samuel RutherfordArticles on the 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith
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THOUGH the Lord needeth not a testimony from such a wretched man as I, if I, and all the world, would be silent, the very stones would cry: it is more than debt, that I should confess Christ before men and angels. It would satisfy me not a little, that the throne of my Lord Jesus were exalted above the clouds, the heaven of heavens, and on both sides of the sun; and that all possible praise and glory were ascribed to him; that, by his grace, I might put my seal, such as it is, unto that song, even the new song of those who, with a loud voice, sing, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests; and we shall reign on earth,’ Rev. v. 9, 10. And blessed were I, could I lay to my ear of faith, and say Amen to that psalm of ‘the many angels round about the throne, and the beasts and elders; whose number is ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying, with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.1 And if I heard ‘every creature, which is in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth; and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, (as John heard them) saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb, for ever and ever.’ I mean not any visible reign of Christ on earth, as the Millenaries fancy; I believe (Lord, help my unbelief,) the doctrine of the holy prophets, and the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, contained in the books of the Old and New Testament, to be the undoubted truth of God, and a perfect rule of faith, and the only way of salvation. And I do acknowledge the sum of the Christian religion, exhibited in the Confessions and Catechisms of the reformed Protestant churches, and in the National Covenant, divers times sworn by the king’s majesty, the state, and Church of Scotland, and sealed by the testimony and subscription of the nobles, barons, gentlemen, citizens, ministers, and professors of all ranks. As also, in the Solemn League and Covenant of the three kingdoms of Scotland, England, and Ireland. And I do judge, and in conscience believe, that no power on earth can absolve, and liberate the people of God from the bonds and sacred ties of the oath of God. I am persuaded that Asa acted warrantably, in making a law, that the people should stand to the covenant, in receiving into the covenant such as were not of his kingdom, 2 Chron. xv. 9,10. As did also Hezekiah, in sending a proclamation through all the tribes, from Dan to Beersheba, That they should come and keep the Passover unto the Lord at Jerusalem,1 2 Chron. xxx. 6,7 though their own princes did not go along with them; yea, and it is nature’s law, warranted by the word, that nations should encourage and stir up one another to seek the true God. It is also prophesied, that divers nations should excite one another in this way, Isa. ii. 3. ‘Many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up unto the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us his ways.’ Zech. viii. 21,22. ‘And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord of hosts; I will go also. Yea, many people, and strong nations, shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord.1 There is also a clear prophecy, to be accomplished under the New Testament, Jer. 1. 4,5. That
Israel and Judah shall go together, and seek the Lord. They shall ask the way to Zion, with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord, in a perpetual covenant, that shall not be forgotten.1 It is also foretold, that different nations shall confederate with the Lord, and with one another, Isa. xix. 23,24,25. ‘In that day there shall be an highway out of Egypt into Assyria; and the Assyrian shall come to Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians. In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt, and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land; whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt, my people, and Assyria, the work of my hands, and Israel, mine inheritance.’
The Church of Scotland had once as much of the presence of Christ, as to the power and purity of doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, as any we read of, since the Lord took his ancient people to be his covenanted church. The Lord stirred up our nobles to attempt a reformation in the last age, through many difficulties, and against much opposition from those in supreme authority; he made bare his holy arm, and carried on the work gloriously, like himself, his right hand getting him the victory, until the idolatry of Rome, and her cursed mass, were dashed; a hopeful reformation was in some measure settled, and a sound Confession of Faith was agreed upon, by the Lords of the Congregation. The people of God, according to the laudable custom of other ancient churches, the Protestants in France and Holland, and the renowned princes in Germany, did carry on the work in an innocent, self-defensive war, which the Lord did abundantly bless. When our land and church were thus contending for that begun reformation, those in authority did still oppose the work; and there was not then wanting men from among ourselves, men of prelatical spirits, who, with some other time-serving courtiers, did not a little undermine the building; and we, doating too much upon sound parliaments, and lawful general assemblies, fell from our first love, to self-seeking, secret banding, and little fearing the oath of God.
Afterwards, our work in public was too much in sequestration of estates, fining, and imprisoning, more than in a compassionate mournfulness of spirit toward those whom we saw to oppose the work. In our assemblies, we were more to set up a state opposite to a state; more upon forms, citations, leading of witnesses, suspensions from benefices, than spiritually to persuade and work upon the conscience, with the meekness and gentleness of Christ. The glory and royalty of our princely Redeemer and King was trampled on, as any might have seen in our assemblies. What way the army and the sword, and the countenance of nobles and officers seemed to sway, that way were the censures carried. It had been better, had there been more days of humiliation and fasting in assemblies, synods, presbyteries, congregations, families; and far less adjourning commissions, new peremptory summonses, and new-drawn-up processes. And if the meekness and gentleness of our Master had got so much place in our hearts, that we might have waited on gainsayers, and parties contrary minded; and we might have driven gently, as our Master Christ, who loves not to over-drive, but ‘carries the lambs in his bosom.
If the word of truth, in the Old and New Testaments, be a sufficient rule, holding forth what is a Christian army, whether offensive or defensive, whether clean or sinfully mixed, then must we leave the question betwixt our public brethren and us, to be determined by that rule; but if there be no such rule in the word, then the confederacies and associations of the people of God, with the idolatrous apostate Israelites, with the Egyptians and Assyrians, as that of Jehoshaphat with Ahab, and those of Israel and Judah, with Egypt and Assyria, are not to be condemned. But they are often reproved and condemned in scripture. To deny the scripture to be a sufficient rule in this case, were to accuse it of being imperfect and defective; a high and unjust reflection on the holy word of God. Beyond all question, the written word doth teach what is a right constituted court, and what not, Psal. x. What is a right constituted house, and what not, Josh. xxiv. 15. What is a true church, and what is a false one; what is a true church, and what is a synagogue of Satan, Rev. ii. What is a clean camp, and what is an unclean.
We are not for an army of saints, and free of all mixture of ill affected men; but it seems a high prevarication, for churchmen to counsel and teach, that the weight and trust of the affairs of Christ, and his kingdom, should be laid upon the whole party of such as have been enemies to our cause, contrary to the word of God, and the declarations, remonstrances, solemn warnings, and serious exhortations of his church, whose public protestations the Lord did admirably bless, to the encouragement of the godly, and the terror of all the opposers of the work.
Since we are very shortly to appear before our dreadful Master and Sovereign, we cannot pass from our protestation, trusting we are therein accepted of him, though we should lie under the imputation of dividing spirits, and unpeaceable men. We acknowledge all due obedience in the Lord, to the king’s majesty; but we disown that ecclesiastical supremacy, in and over the church, which some ascribe to him; that power of commanding external worship, not appointed in the word; and laying bonds upon the consciences of men, where Christ has made them free. We disown antichristian prelacy, bowing at the name of Jesus, saints’ days, canonizing of the dead, and other such corrupt inventions of men, and look upon them as the high-way to popery.-Alas! now there is no need of a spirit of prophecy, to declare what shall be the woeful condition of a land that hath broken covenant, first practically, and then legally, with the Lord our God; and what shall be the day of the silent and dumb watchmen of Scotland? Where will we leave our glory; and what if Christ depart out of our land? We verily judge they are most loyal to the king’s majesty, who desire the dross may be separated from the silver, and the throne established in righteousness and judgment. We are not (our witness is in heaven) against his majesty’s title by birth to the kingdom, and the right of the royal family; but that the controversy of wrath against the royal family may be removed; that the huge guilt of the throne may be mourned for before the Lord; and that his majesty may stand constantly, all the days of his life, to the covenant of God, by oath, seal, and subscription, known to the world; that so peace, and the blessings of heaven, may follow his government; that the Lord may be his rock and shield; that the just may flourish in his time, that men fearing God, hating covetousness, and of known integrity and godliness, may be judges and rulers under his majesty. And they are not really loyal and faithful to the supreme magistrate, who wish not such qualifications in him: we are not, in this particular, contending, that a prince who is not a convert, or a sound believer, falls from his royal dominion; the scriptures of God warrant us to pray for, and obey in the Lord, princes and supreme magistrates, that are otherwise wicked; and to render all due obedience to them, Rom. xiii. 2,5. 2 Tim. ii. 12,13. 1 Pet. ii. 18. Our souls should be afflicted before the Lord, for the burning of the causes of God’s wrath; a sad practice, too like the burning of the roll by Jehoiakim, Jer. xxxvi. 23. In these controversies, we should take special heed to this, that Christ is a free, independent Sovereign, King, and Lawgiver. The Father hath appointed him his own King in mount Zion; and he cannot endure that the powers of the world should encroach upon his royal prerogative, and prescribe laws to him; this presumption is not far from that of the citizens that hated him, Luke xix. 14. ‘He shall not rule over us;’ and from the intolerable pride of those who are for breaking asunder the bands of the Lord and his anointed, and for casting away their cords from them, Psal. ii. 2.-Especially seeing the man Christ would not take the office of a judge upon him, Luke xii. 14. and discharged his disciples to exercise a civil lordship over their brethren. True it is, the godly magistrate may command the ministers of the gospel to do their duty, but not under the penalty of ecclesiastical censures, as if it were proper to him to call and uncall, depose and suspend from the holy ministry. The lordly spiritual government, in and over the church, is given unto Christ, and none else; he is the sole ecclesiastic Lawgiver. It is proper to him to smite with the rod of his mouth; nor is there any other shoulder, in heaven or on earth, that is able to bear the government. As this hath been the great controversy betwixt our Lord Jesus and the powers of the world, from the beginning, so it has ruined all that coped with him. Christ has proved a rock of offence to them; they have been dashed in pieces by the stone that was cut out of the mountain without hands, Dan. ii. 34,35. And the other powers that enter the lists with him, shall have the same dismal exit.
“Whosoever shall fall upon this stone, shall be broken; and on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder,” Matth. xxi. 44. As the blessed prophets and apostles of our Lord contended not a little with the rulers of the earth, that Christ should be the Head Corner Stone, that Christ is the only Head of the church, as sure as that he died, was buried, and rose again; it is a most victorious and prevailing truth, not only preached and attested by the ambassadors of the Lord of hosts, but confirmed by blood, martyrdom, and suffering.
Many precious saints have thought it their honor and dignity, to suffer shame and reproach for the name of Jesus. And it is beyond doubt, that passive suffering for the name of Christ, comes nearest to that noble sample, wherein Christ, though a Son, learned obedience by the things which he suffered, Heb. v. 3. Now, blessed is the soul who loves not his life to death, Rev. xii. 11, for on such rests the Spirit of glory and of God, 1 Pet. iv. 14. We cannot but say it is a sad time to this land at present; it is a day of darkness, and rebuke, and blasphemy. The Lord hath covered himself with a cloud in his anger; we looked for peace, but behold evil: our souls rejoiced when his majesty did swear the covenant of God, and put thereto his seal and subscription, and after confirmed it by his royal promise, so that the subjects’ hearts blessed the Lord, and rested upon the healing word of a prince. But now, alas! the contrary is enacted by law, the carved work broken down, ordinances are defaced, and we are brought into the former bondage and chaos of prelatical confusion. The royal prerogative of Christ is pulled from his head, and, after all the days of sorrow we have seen, we have just cause to fear we shall be made to eat that book wherein is written, Mourning, and lamentation, and woe. Yet we are to believe, Christ will not so depart from the land, but a remnant shall be saved, and he shall reign, victorious conquering King, to the ends of the earth. O that there were nations, kindreds, tongues, and all the people of Christ’s habitable world, encompassing his throne with cries and tears for the Spirit of supplication, to be poured down upon the inhabitants of Judah, for that effect!