True heroes exchanged for lesser men
Nowadays, at least in Britain, our Reformed churches teach us to take our gaze off the 16th century Reformation and concentrate on the Revolutionary period of the 17th century where, they say, we shall find true Reformation theology. This, they say, was the age of Puritanism, though they define Puritanism in a very limited and often political way. This is advice which would be foolish to follow. The 17th century brought with it a grave departure from the teaching of the Reformation. The British public, government and churches experienced military and moral rebellion, down-grading and back-sliding in religion, fierce intolerance, anarchy in politics, an upsurge of Rationalism, a bawdy press, women’s revolt, denomination-building over minute externals and academic opposition to the authority of both Church and Scripture.
True religion replaced by human inventions
God was thought to have retired as a Deity from the world scene and now even Puritan leaders such as Samuel Rutherford preached vox populi, vox Dei; the people’s voice is the voice of God. By 1644, every member of the Westminster Assembly was using Rutherford’s political publication, Lex Rex as his spiritual guide. This was the first major rationalist and Enlightenment work to be mass distributed in Britain. Rutherford argued that ‘nature’s light’, ‘nature’s instinct’, ‘natures law’, ‘the covenant of nature’ and even a common human ‘law of nations’ was the Divine power in the people. He thus argues that the powers that be are only of God if they behave according to his strongly Rationalistic-Presbyterian view of nature, otherwise the people have the right to use violence against them. According to Rutherford, a Christian may take the law into his own hands and kill a neighbour if he does so ‘without malice or appetite of revenge’, and if he may do it out of this principle, ‘Though shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’, because a man is obliged more to love his own flesh than his neighbour’s.’1
The Westminster Standards not up to Biblical quality
This explains why so often in the writings of the Westminster Assembly members and the 17th century Puritans, we find doctrines and political theories based on a natural theology shunned by our Reformers. Indeed, Scriptural doctrines were only introduced positively if they were found to be according to either natural law or the light of nature. The Westminster Confession even claims that the light of nature and natural law are the incentives behind setting apart a time of worship and keeping the Sabbath.2 Such rationalistic theologies disregard the fact that sinners are either unaware of God in nature or blind to any function nature had as a handmaid to the gospel. Thus they are condemned as being without understanding, without natural affections and thus without excuse. This blindness to nature’s glories is seen by Paul as a judgment of God. The Westminster Confession, however, sees man as still possessing the natural ability to know God’s will in nature which leads to natural worship. This belief, of course, lies at the heart of Fullerism which invaded the Baptist churches via a trust in the alleged Divine Rights of the Presbyterian system.
The totalitarian manifesto of the Solemn League and Covenant
The Scottish Presbyterians furthermore, through their Solemn League and Covenant, sought to enforce a reign of terror and totalitarianism on the British people which was fully akin to Marian Roman Catholic terrors in the century before. They preached and passed through Parliament that the mighty Scottish armies, trained in the Continental Thirty Years’ War were an essential element in forcing the English to accept the Word of God and absolute Presbyterian control. Irenic men of God such as Philip, Nye, Thomas Goodwin, John Owen and John Durie were called ‘malignants’ and ‘Episcopalians’ because they taught the unity of all Protestants. Fanatics such as Englishman William Prynne, through publishing his forgeries and using all his skills as a henchman lawyer, sought to rule any man of Christian tolerance out of court.
The modern chaos of the cults has a 17th century basis
Rutherford argued from Aristotle, Plato and even Cicero to this anarchistic, deistic, secular theory of man’s divine dignity and a retired God. Sadly, these pagan philosophers are still viewed as Apostles in much modern allegedly Reformed theology, although they have added the ‘logic’ of Peter Ramus. Thus, not only Charles I, Oliver Cromwell and Charles II are to be blamed for spreading the chaos and the downgrading of religion, politics and society in the troubled years of the seventeenth century. The churches, on the whole, were even more guilty and their sinning during the 17th century gave rise to the myriads of denominations we have today and the chaos of the cults.
- Lex Rex, p. 163 ff. See also Questions II, IX, XI, XIV, XXXI, XXXVII, XXVII and passim. ↩
- Westminster Confession, especially Chapter XXIII. Mankind is addressed as if he were not fallen and was ‘neutral’ in his tendencies to do good or evil (Chapter XI: Of Free Will). Note, too, how later additions to the Confession go further and emphasise duty-faith and the universality of God’s saving love (Chapters IX , X, XXIII George S Hendry, SCM edition). ↩
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