Letter to the Reader

Christian Reader,

 

       It were good there were more believing and less disputing in the world; and that all, especially the Ambassadors of the Prince of Peace, would listen to that 1 Tim. 1:4., “not to give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith”: as also to consider, that the Holy Ghost states an opposition betwixt questions of perverse disputers, and godliness, 1 Tim. 6:4,5.

       In this piece, which the violence of requests in some, the importunity of chiding in others, and the less modest triumphing in not a few has extorted rather than willingly brought forth, the question of the preference of humble believing above all factious disputing, even though the subject were the form, the going out and the coming of the house of the Lord, is with me, and (which is of infinite more weight) with the truly godly soon determined: for, blessed is the servant whom the Master when he cometh shall find watching, praying, believing, not tossing and raising the dust of debating and multiplied replies and duplies, since the peace and joy of believing, that we may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost, is of great price with those in whom the meekness and gentleness of Christ hath place.

       For it were desirable, not to be in bondage to either engine or pen; and it would appear that there is less of Christ and more of Self in our sickness of over-loving these truths, which suffer most bruising and grinding (might I be licensed so to speak) between the millstones of sides, opinions and contradictions of parties, as if that were the choicest verity which the man’s own engine hath taken out of an adversaries hand (in a manner) with his bow and his sword. 

       But O how more precious were it, if the Holy Ghost had persuaded the man of the sweetness of it from the fountain of Holy Scripture!  For it is beyond doubting, that syllogisms, and haply thirty-two or forty arguments have not such leading and captivating influences upon the heart, as the convincing light of the Spirit acting upon the supernatural instinct of the new birth, to bring the thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ.

       For when the head is filled with topics, and none of the flamings of Christ’s love in the heart, how dry are all disputes?  For too often dispute in the head weakens love in the heart.  And what can our paper-industry add to the spotless truth of our Lord Jesus?  O that opinions were down, and the Gospel up; and sides and parties might fall, and Christ stand; and that all names, sects and ways were low, and the Lord alone exalted!  And that we could both dispute for Jehovah, and in the same act worship Jehovah!  

       There is too much fire stricken out of the letter in our debates: it were good that the Spirit with fire from heaven did animate and enliven the letter and word of our Polemics; it were good that the ministers of the Gospel in the Isle of Britain were well studied and read in that celebrated and noble text, Jesus Christ and Him crucified, that we might contend for his high interests, and had the Key of David to open Christ, to commend him in all his loveliness, and people would come and see, and wonder; then should we know how choicer it were to act in ourselves the love of Christ, being warmed and inflamed therewith, than to write the letters of His love in ink and paper, and to declaim of it to others.

       Neither is this spoken to deny but many precious and savory truths, as Christ himself, have endured contradiction of sinners; but the witnesses both sealed these truths with their blood, and were in their debatings shined upon by the out-lettings and emanations of the Spirit of Christ.

       It were safer to lie in the dust and be humbled before the Lord for the breach of Covenant, the vast toleration of false religions, our vanity of apparel, when we busk and adorn ourselves in silks, even in our state of captivity; for intemperance, execrable swearing, lying, mocking and persecuting of godliness, loathing and hating the godly, covetousness, the barrenness of our profession; and which is the root of all, atheism, gross ignorance of God and of Jesus Christ, the abounding of many other iniquities, as if we would make it appear, that three Englands are scarce sufficient to humble one Scotland.  Which is not spoken to justify the author, or a party from deep accession to these sins, or to clear and acquit the members of our Church from the charge put on them by Mr. Hooker.  

       It’s true, we judge it not warrantable to say, that the servants are to call and invite none to the marriage-banquet but such as they look on as regenerate, and clothed with the wedding-garment; nor to teach, that the Lord of Hosts shall make a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, unto, and for a visible society, of which Magus the Sorcerer, Judas the Traitor are privileged members; and that the Lord in them shall destroy the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations (Isa. 15. 6, 7); and that in the members of that Church-frame of which we now dispute, its verified which the Prophet says, Isa. 30:26, “Moreover, the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the Light of seven days,” as Mr. Hooker cited: for without the salvo and […]enitive of a figure, the part for the whole, his Congregational visible Church can never stand under the weight of such glorious prophecies as are fulfilled in the only really gracious and chosen of God, visible or invisible.

       Yet should the desire of our soul be, that there be upon the bells of the horses Holiness unto the Lord, and the pots in the Lords house may be like bowls before the altar; yea, that every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah may be holiness to the Lord of Hosts, Zech. 14:20-21.  We pray for the coming of His Kingdom, and praise him that the number of those that seek the Lord in Scotland are not diminished, but grow even under evil shepherds and lazy feeders; which is the lily among the thorns, though we go under the name of Protestors, Separatists, hypocrites, unpeaceable, implacable spirits, are made as the filth of the world, and the off-scourings of all things: yea, troubled on every side (in the streets, pulpits, in divers synods, presbyteries, etc., more than under prelacy) yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. 

       We desire to believe our cry shall come up before the Lord, though we be afflicted and helpless; and look on the right hand, and behold now man knows us, refuge fails us.  It’s a wonder if there be a power now on earth, who says in reality as Job did, when the secret of God was on his tabernacle, Job 29:11, “When the ear heard me, then it blessed me, and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me; because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him: the blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me; and I caused the widows heart to sing for joy; I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my judgment was as a robe and a diadem; I was as eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame; I was a father to the poor, and the cause that I knew not I searched out,” etc.  And now to other snares this is added:

1. That our Brethren have framed and defend one engagement which every entrant to the Ministry must take and subscribe, otherwise there is no maintenance for him, that he is resolved to live peaceably, and unoffensively under the present government; 

1. And how far we are from siding with any seditious, unpeaceable, treacherous, and malignant way, and from raising tumults, is well known; but we dare not deceive our souls, and deal doubly with the Lord, and with the present powers, to make a difference betwixt a resolution to do a duty, and a promise or engagement to do a duty, as our brethren do, when the resolution is declared and subscribed.

2. When it is judicially declared to understanding, and wise men, who cannot take the sense to be, he is resolved for the present, but hath power to alter his resolution tomorrow, and judges in conscience he may alter without equivocating.

3. When it is declared ad modum compacti, by way of covenant: if the present powers shall give order for his enjoying the stipend, he is resolved to do such a duty.  Let any say whether he doth not covenant & promise; and if he speak sincerely as a minister of Christ, he may not swear the same. This we disown, as no lawful act of a presbytery, though it be said to be done by a surreptitious meeting of correspondents from the synods of this Church, without the knowledge and consent of some and of hundreds of godly ministers.

2. As we desire not presbyterial government to be reproached for such judging, so neither are prelatical acts of synods for debarring from the holy ministry men of an holy and unblameable conversation, and for the grace of God in them, and their knowledge and utterance, able and fit to preach the Gospel, upon this account, because they are unpeaceable, and hold up debates, that is, because they will not be satisfied with the public resolutions for taking into places in the Church, Parliament, Army, Committee of Estates, all the malignant party in the land, or will not promise silence in their matters.

3. Nor doth it belong to the essence of Presbyterial Government, that all members of this Church, and inferior judicatures, should so submit to the superior respective judicatures, that if they be grieved with the sentence, they ought to acquiesce thereunto, and not to contra-act, but only appeal, until there shall be a general assembly to determine the matter. This never was, and I trust, nor shall ever be their mind who are for presbyterial government; nor do our brethren justly father it up|on the general Assembly, […] 1648. Sess. 30. For our Church acknowledges no subjection nor subordination of inferior judicatures unto superiors, but in the Lord, and so to submit to any sentence, and to forbear a duty of preaching the Gospel, praying, visiting, exhorting, catechizing pastorally in families, to abstain from the Lords Supper, and from acts of due censure necessary for the flock upon the known unjust sentence of a Synod, until a general Assembly (which possibly cannot be convened in an age to determine) is to:

1. Obey men unjustly forbidding a called minister of Christ to preach in season, and out of season, rather than God; for they unjustly forbid, and the Lord justly commands; therefore the called minister must act and contra-act to their unjust sentence, and not forbear for an hour, as the Scripture clears, 2 Tim. 4:1-2; Acts 20:17-20; 1 Cor. 9:16; Isa. 58:1; Jer. 1:17; Eze. 2:3-5 & 3:10,17; Acts 5:28-29; and so this is unjust.

2. It is to make synods and ecclesiastical judicatures Lords of our faith, which the Reformed Churches detest in popish councils; for all men and Councils most lawful can challenge only limited obedience and submission in the Lord to their determinations, if they speak and command according to the Law and the Testimony, Isa. 8:20, otherwise there is no sight in them. And so it is popish.

3. We conceive in performing acts of that government which Christ owns in his Word, we do not sin; for no authority of a judicature can make that to be the word of God, and obedience to God, which was not, as to the matter, obedience to God before that authority, nor on the contrary. Now to abstain from preaching, praying, eating and drinking as the Lords Supper in a called minister, and in a visible professor, duly called and fitted, is sin; then cannot the authority of the Church, fat less their known unjust sentence make it lawful.

4. Suppose the general Assembly should ratify and confirm the unjust sentence of the inferior judicature, or annul their just sentence, the people of God are not obliged to stand to either the one or the other. So we disown the point which our Brethren delivered to us in their papers for union sought by us, as nothing belonging to the essence of presbyterial government, but reject it as unsound, tyrannical and popish.

4. As we desire to be humbled for our accession to the sins of the Land, so it’s no part of presbyterial government owned by us, that many insufficient, ignorant and wickedly weak, not a few, yea, too many scandalous, malignant, and profane Ministers and Elders are in office; and oh if they had not lurked and strengthened themselves in the shadow of such as carry on the public resolutions, and how a purging of the Church is possible (except to him to whom nothing is impossible) is hard to divine, when the body of the ministry, of whom many are malignant, were prelatical, Arminian (and diverted into us for the […]) are ignorant of God, la[…]y, such as extrude out of their sessions, out of their hearts, godly praying elders, and call into their place scandalous men, and persecute the godly.  

When such, I say, are incorporate with the chief leading men of the public Resolutions, and that in opinion, judgment, way, and common counsels and actings, for furnishing Commissions, public messages to court, and carrying on the course of desection, and their followers expect they shall not be deserted by their patrons; and the body of people in congregations are ignorant, profane, and loose, and yet have suffrages in the election of Ministers and Elders, contrary to the word of God, and acts of our Church; and when it’s now as it was in the prelatical times, the people love to have it so; and when our Brethren and other opposers have that Catholic advantage known in all ages, to wit, the multitude for them, and against us; and pulpits have sounded against us in the prelatical language, casting into our bosom that Isa. 65:5, “stand by thyself, come not near me, for I am holier than thou.”

5. Nor look we on the receiving to Church-fellowship men known as enemies to the covenant and cause of God, who again and again had broken their engagement, and of many like unto them, any otherwise then as a taking of the name of God in vain, and as an heinous abuse of the ordinance of Church-pardoning and re-admitting of penitents.

6. The admitting of many known insufficient, unqualified, and scandalous Ministers and Elders to office in the house of God, and the polluting of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, by admitting thereunto many ignorant and scandalous persons, is to us no part of this Government. Since we earnestly desire the laudable way of the provincial Synod at London for pro-moving of godliness, and examining of such as are to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper, and wait to see what the Lord will do for the help of a suffering people, for the gathering of the dispersed of Zion, and building among us the old waste places; nor do we so faint, but we look toward such refreshing words, Isa. 27:2, “In that day sing ye unto her, a vineyard of red wine; I the Lord do keep it, I will water it every moment, lest any hurt it.”  

What is spoken to the whole, the faith of an afflicted part may own it, Isa. 60:18, “Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting, nor destruction within thy borders, but thou shalt call thy walls salvation, and thy gates praise.”  Isa. 62:12, “And they shall call them the holy people, the redeemed of the Lord; and thou shalt be called, Sought out, a City not forsaken.”  Isa. 66:13, “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you, and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem, and when ye see this your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like an herb.”  Isa. 58:11, “And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones, and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.”  

It were not the wisdom of any to disoblige Christ, by either neglecting, or hurting of such as desire to be owned by the Lord Jesus, as his own hidden ones. The Lord was not in the debt of Cyrus for his favor toward his people. He can be angry at all who will not kiss the Son; and better heaven in the length & latitude of it were turned in a mass or web of fiery anger (so it were but creature-wrath) and I were folded in that web, then that I should lie under the Gospel-indignation and anger of the Son of God.  

But no matter of a despicable handful of such as we are; we are not the godly in Scotland, nor did we ever say we were the only, or all, the godly in Scotland; but sure we were either looked on as of the same way, in the year 1648.  With all that owned Christ, and the godly in the Isle of Britain, or then some did much dissemble with us, though some with whom we took sweet counsel then, do now say we was in an error, in the year 1648.

 

       As I intend to darken the reputation of no man, so far less to undervalue the authority and name of the servant of Jesus Christ, Mr. Thomas Hooker, yea, the Commandment of God lays laws on me to give testimony to his learning, his dexterous eloquence and accuracy in disputes, and as Christian report bears, to judge him one who walked with God, and preached Christ not with the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit, and of power.  

       Yet, as I hugely differ from his esteem of these against whom he disputes, in putting them all to the worth of a straw, and every pen to a nihil dicit, he says nothing; and ranking us among the opposers of Christ’s Kingdom, Cerinthus, Ebion, Gnostics, Valentinians, whom the godly fathers did oppose, and with Boniface, Hildebrand, Papists, against whom the Waldenses, Wicliff, Huss, Jerome of Prague did witness; and with prelates, primates, metropolitans, as if we were the prelates’ successors, who would keep a dominion in the hands of Elders, so in the particulars in the following disputes.

       I have apprehensions far contrary to this man, whose name is savory in the Churches, concerning the government of Christ’s visible Kingdom: and should desire that holiness may shine more eminently in the Churches of Christ; for the first declining of Churches hath its beginning from a loose and profane walk of officers; nor can Assemblies have any other issue than that of which Nazianzene complains, when Pastors are ungodly, then the Sun at noon day goes down upon the prophets, and stars fall from Heaven, and the glory of the Lord departs from the Temple.  And were our practice more concentric with, and suitable unto our rule, the question of the constitution of visible Churches should be a huge deal narrower. The God of power lead us in all truth.

 

Yours in the Lord Jesus,

   Samuel Rutherfurd