The Scottish Resolutioner-Protester Controversy, 1650’s


Order of Contents

.      Biblio
.      Resolutioners
.      In Between
.      Protesters




The Resolutioner-Protester Controversy was the first division of the Church of Scotland since her Reformation in 1560.  In 1653 rival General Assemblies were set up and separate presbyteries, competing for ascendancy, would continue till the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660.

Following the Engagement (1647), a military campaign into England, the Scottish Parliament passed the Act of Classes (1649), which barred ‘malignants’ from the army and important public offices.  In 1650, in light of the present invasion of Cromwell from England, the Scottish Parliament removed much of the legislation of the Act of Classes, letting more people fight in the army, by passing the Public Resolutions in December.  The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland approved this.  Those who supported the Public Resolutions were known as Resolutioners.

A few months before in October of 1650, a protest was presented to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland which complained of the Church’s acceptance of the ‘sinful’ hastiness with which Charles II, in order to be shortly thereafter crowned as king, promised to uphold the Scottish national covenants.  The Protesters believed that,

“…to promise any power to the King before he had evidenced the change of his principles, and the continuing of that power in his hand was sinful till that change did appear.”

These Church officers were censured and barred from the 1651 General Assembly.  The 22 ministers then entered another protestation against being barred from the Assembly and against the Public Resolutions.  Having been barred from the Assembly (unjustly in their minds), they considered it no longer a ‘free Assembly’ and hence the Protesters declared the 1651 Assembly to be null and void.

This division between the Resolutioners and the Protesters essentially healed only upon the beginning of the Era of Persecution, after King Charles II, demonstrating his insincerity, initiated it in 1661 by rescinding the covenants.

This sad split in the Church of Christ in Scotland, nonetheless, brought out interesting theological controversies concerning: civil resistance, passive and active obedience, the unity of the Church, grounds for separation, social covenanting, the nature of the Church, lawful (and unlawful) alliances and the right (or not-right) of continued protesting, amongst other disputed points.  Read the side first that you agree less with, and you may get a surprise; there is a reason why godly and learned men fell out on both sides.

As far as who was right, that honor goes to James Durham, who sought to unify the two parties.  Near the end of his shortened life, he left ‘a dying man’s testament to the Church of Scotland’, the presbyterian masterpiece on healing scandal.  Insightfully opening the Scriptures upon this controversy, he argued that the division itself was worse than the reasons for it; and history proves him right.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” (Mt. 5:9)

Here is a list of persons on the various sides:


Robert Baillie, David Dickson (ex-Protester), Robert Douglas, James Wood, George Hutcheson, Andrew Ker, Thomas Kirkcaldy, James Fergusson

In the Middle

James Durham, William Row, Robert Blair


James Guthrie, William Guthrie, Patrick Gillespie, George Gillespie, Samuel Rutherford, Hugh Binning, Frederick Carmichael, Alexander Moncreiff, John Livingstone, James Simson, Archibald Johnston, Andrew Cant



The History of 

Most Comprehensive To-Date

Holfelder, Kyle – Factionalism in the Kirk during the Cromwellian Invasion & Occupation of Scotland, 1650 to 1660: The Protester-Resolutioner Controversy  (1998)  319 pp.

Young, John R. – The Scottish Parliament, 1639-61: A Political & Constitutional Analysis  Buy

See this review by David Stevenson.

Spurlock, R. Scott – Sectarian Religion in Scotland: The Impact of
Cromwell’s Occupation (1650-1660)  Buy  PhD diss.  (University of Edinburgh, 2005)  380 pp.

MacKenzie, Kirsteen

Presbyterian Church Government & the ‘Covenanted Interest’ in the Three Kingdoms, 1649-1660  PhD diss.  (Aberdeen University, 2008)  When on the page, click on the top of the two links and then hit ‘continue’

The Solemn League & Covenant of the Three Kingdoms and the Cromwellian Union, 1643-1663  Pre  (2017)

Langley, Christopher R. – Times of Trouble & Deliverance: Worship in the Kirk of Scotland, 1645-1658  Pre  PhD diss.  (University of Aberdeen, 2012)

McIntyre, Neil – Saints & Subverters: the Later Covenanters in Scotland c.1648-1682  PhD diss.  (Univ. of Strathclyde, 2016)



Primary Source Histories

Row, William – ‘The History of Robert Blair’s Life, which may be called the History of the Times, especially from the year 1643 unto 1666’  in ed. M’Crie, The Life of Mr. Robert Blair, pp. 111-499

Balfour, James – The Historical Works: The Annals of Scotland, vol. 3 (1641-49), 4 (1650-52)

Kirkton, James – pp. 52-56 of The Secret & True History of the Church of Scotland

Kirkton was a protester.  This work was circulated in manuscript form in the 1600’s, though not published until 1817.


Diaries & Personal Records

Brodie, Alexander – The Diary of, 1652-1680 & of his Son James Brodie, 1680-85

ed. Barclay, John – The Diary of Alexander Jaffray…  one of the Scottish Commissioners to King Charles II…  (1614-1673)  DNB  a Quaker

The Diary of John Lamont of Newton, 1649-71  DNB

ed. Houston – A Brief Historical Relation of the Life of John Livingstone, written by Himself  (1661)  300 pp.

Livingstone (1603-1672) was a Protester.

Nicoll, John – A Diary of Public Transactions & Other Occurrances , Chiefly in Scotland, 1650-1667

Crichton, Andrew – Memoirs of John Blackader, written by Himself while Prisoner on the Bass, & containing Illustrations of the Episcopal Persecution from the Restoration [1660] to the Death of Charles II [1685]  400 pp.

Blackader (ca. 1622–1685) was a presbyterian covenanting preacher.

ed. Ross – Glimpses of Pastoral Work in the Covenanting Times, a Record of the Labors of Andrew Donaldson, 1644-1662  255 pp.

“His people showed their gratitude to him, for in 1662 they refused to part with him, and Sharp had to send a party of soldiers to eject him in 1664.” – John C. Johnston

ed. Stevenson – Some Remarkable Passages of the Lord’s Providence towards Mr. John Spreull, Town-Clerk of Glasgow, 1635-1664  (Edinburgh, 1832)

On this, see Johnston, Treasuryp. 380.

ed. Wishart – The Memoirs of James Marquis of Montrose, 1639-1650  (1893)  635 pp.

James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose (1612–1650) was a Scottish nobleman, poet and soldier, who initially joined the Covenanters in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, but subsequently supported King Charles I as the English Civil War developed.  He is often referred to simply as ‘Montrose’.


Secondary Source Histories


Wodrow, Robert – pp. 1-4  of ‘The Introduction’ to The Sufferings of the Church of Scotland  (Glasgow: Blackie & Son, 1835), vol. 1



Beattie, James – History of the Church of Scotland during the Commonwealth  (1842)  368 pp.

Beattie was of the Free Church of Scotland.

See p. 5 of Holfelder about this work and the limited data it is based off of.

Hetherington, William – pp. 192-205 of ch. 6 of History of the Church of Scotland  (1854)

M’Crie, Thomas (the younger) – ch. 10, ‘1647-1660’ of The Story of the Scottish Church, pp. 207-54  (1875)



Willcock, John

The Great Marquess: Life & Times of Archibald, 8th Earl and Marquess of Argyll (1606-1661)  430 pp.

A Scots Earl in Covenanting Times: Being Life & Times of Archibald, 9th Earl of Argyll (1629-85)  500 pp.

Hewison, James King – The Covenanters: A History of the Church in Scotland from the Reformation to the Revolution  (1913)

vol. 1, ch. 18, ‘The Engagement: the Fall of Charles I & of Montrose, 1646-1650’

vol. 2

ch. 18, ‘Scotland’s Three Rulers: Church, Charles & Cromwell, 1650-1651’, p. 1 ff.

ch. 19, ‘The Rule of the Ironsides, 1651-1660’, p. 38 ff.

Ainslie, J.L. – ‘The Church & People of Scotland, 1645-1660’  in Scottish Church History Society  (1947)

Surman, C. E. – ‘The Presbyterian Classical System, 1646-1660’, Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society, 10 (1951-54)

Dow, F.D. – Cromwellian Scotland, 1651-1660  (1979; Edinburgh: John Donald, 1999)  365 pp.  ToC

Stewart, L. A. M. – ‘Cromwell & the Scots’, in ed. J. A. Mills, Cromwell’s Legacy  Ref  (Manchester, 2012)


Collections of Documents

Consultations of the Ministers of Edinburgh, 1652-1660  in 2 vols.

ed. Firth, C.H.

Scotland & the Commonwealth: Letters & Papers Relating to the Military Government of Scotland from August 1651 to December 1653  455 pp.

Scotland & the Protectorate: Letters & Papers Relating to the Military Government of Scotland from January 1654 to June 1659

ed. Howden – ‘Papers Relative to the Preservation of the Honors of Scotland, in Dunnottar Castle, 1651-52’  in Diary of Archibald Johnston, Lord Wariston, 1639 etc., pp. 99-139

ed. Terry – The Cromwellian Union: Papers Relating to the Negotiations for an Incorporating Union Between England & Scotland, 1651-1652

From the English Side

A Collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, Esq. Secretary to the First Council of State and Afterwards to the Two Protectors, Oliver and Richard Cromwell, containing authentic memorials of the English Affairs from 1638-1660, vol. 1 (1638-53), 2 (1653-54), 3 (1654-55), 4 (1655-56), 5 (1655), 6 (1657-58), 7 (1658-60)

Calendar of State Papers during the Commonwealth, 18 vols.



Rubinstein, Hilary – King Campbell: the Public Career of the Marquis of Argyll (1607?-1661)  (1980)  PhD thesis

Bowman, Harold – William Guthrie : 1620-1665  (1953)  PhD thesis, Univ. of Edinburgh

Willcock, John

The Great Marquess: Life & Times of Archibald, 8th Earl & Marquess of Argyll (1606-1661)  430 pp.

Both the elder and younger Earls of Argyll were very much involved with, and suffered for, the covenanting cause.

A Scots Earl in Covenanting Times: Being Life & Times of Archibald, 9th Earl of Argyll (1629-85)  500 pp.




Ogilvie, James – The Resolutioner-Protester Controversy, 1650-1659: A Bibliography  (1928)  30 pp.




Wood, James – A Vindication of the Freedom and Lawfulness of the Late General Assembly Begun at St. Andrews and Continued at Dundee, in Answer to the Reasons Alleged against the same in the Protestation & Declinature  (1652)  49 pp.

Wood was a professor and friend and colleague of Samuel Rutherford.  See Guthrie below for a response to this.

Dickson, David – ‘No Separation of the weill affected from the Army of the Covenanters’

Hutcheson, George & Wood, James – A Review and Examination of a Pamphlet Lately Published bearing the Title of Protesters No Subverters & Presbytery No Papacy, etc.  (1659)  139 pp.

Responds to Guthrie’s article below.

“…in which the factions dredged up virtually all the points they held in contention, together with the writings of earlier presbyterian theorists and engaged in a heated exchange on the nature of presbyterian church government.” – Holfelder

“It discusses with the same clearness and thoroughness [as his A Little Stone Pretended] the question of church authority, and is in fact perhaps the very best and most satisfactory discussion of that question we possess.” – James Walker

Baillie, Robert – ‘For Mr. Robert Douglass’, pp. 375-81  of Letters & Journals, vol. 3  July 31, 1658

Baillie responds to Rutherford’s ‘Epistle to the Reader’ in his A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church Discipline (1658).


Diary & Letters

Baillie, Robert – Letters & Journals, vol. 3  (1647-1662)



In the Middle  “Blessed are the peacemakers…” Mt. 5:9


‘A Sermon on Eph. 4:11-12’  in Collected Sermons, vol. 1  Buy

“This sermon form an historical perspective is perhaps the most important of the extant sermons we have by Durham.  It was preached before the Synod of Glasgow on October 5, 1652 in the beginning years of the Protester-Resolutioner division in the Church of Scotland, and mirrors much of the material in Durham’s later work Concerning Scandal, published in 1659 after his death [in 1658].” – Chris Coldwell

The Dying Man’s Testament to the Church of Scotland, or, A Treatise Concerning Scandal  EEBO  Buy  (1659)  460 pp.





Gillespie, George – ch. 14, ‘Another Most Useful Case of Conscience Discussed and Resolved, Concerning Associations and Confederacies with Idolaters, Infidels, Heretics, or any other Known Enemies of Truth and Godliness’  in Miscellaneous Questions

Binning, Hugh – ‘A Useful Case of Conscience, Learnedly & Accurately Discussed & Resolved, Concerning Associations & Confederacies with Idolaters, Infidels, Heretics, Malignants or any other Known Enemies of Truth & Godliness’  in Binning’s one vol. Works, pp. 471-521  The first portion appears to have been written by George Gillespie, but is different than Gillespie’s other article.  On the question of the authorship of this article, see Howie’s Faithful Contendings, p. 486.

Rutherford, Samuel

A Testimony  to the Covenanted Work of Reformation (1638-1649) in Britain & Ireland

‘On the Right of Continued Protest’  from A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church Discipline

Guthrie, James

The Nullity of the Pretended-Assembly at Saint Andrews & Dundee: wherein are contained the representation for adjournment, the Protestation & Reasons thereof.  Together with a Review & Examination of the Vindication of the said Pretended Assembly  (1652)  355 pp.

Guthrie responds to Wood’s Article above.

Protesters No Subverters, & Presbytery No Papacy; or, A Vindication of the Protesting Brethren, & of the Government of the Kirk of Scotland from the Aspersions Unjustly Cast upon Them, in a Late Pamphlet of Some of the Resolution-Party, entitled, A Declaration, etc.  (1658)  120 pp.

“…in which the factions dredged up virtually all the points they held in contention, together with the writings of earlier presbyterian theorists and engaged in a heated exchange on the nature of presbyterian church government.” – Holfelder



ed. Fleming – Diary of Sir Archibald Johnston of Wariston, vol. 2, 1650-1654  400 pp.

Ogilvie, J.D. – Diary of Sir Archibald Johnston of Wariston, vol. 3, 1655-1660 (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society, 1940)  305 pp.  ToC



Letter from the Protesters to L. General Cromwell, Jan. 1652  12 pp.

The Representation, Propositions & Protestation of Divers Ministers, Elders & Professors, for Themselves, & in name of many others, well-affected ministers, elders, & people in Scotland presented by the Lord Wareston, Mr. Andrew Cant, Mr. John Livingston, Mr. Samuel Rutherford & diverse others, to the ministers & elders met at Edinburgh, July 21, 1652  20 pp.

Declaration or Testimony of the Protesters in Reference to the English Actings Amongst Us, March 17, 1653  24 pp.

Protesters’ Address to Colonel Lilburne, April, 1653  2 pp.

Protesters Declaration or Exhortation to the Separatists in Aberdeen  7 pp.

Another Declaration or Testimony of the Protesters, March 1654  12 pp.

The Protesters Considerations of the Order of Duty of Ministers, 1654  12 pp.

The Supplication of the Ministers, Elders and Professors who are for the Protestation against the Late Controverted Public Resolutions of Kirk and State in the Year 1651, to the Highness’s Council in Scotland, Nov., 1655  3 pp.

A Testimony to the Truth of Jesus Christ, or to the Doctrine, Worship, Discipline & Government of the Church of Scotland by the Ministers of Perth & Fife, Nov. 1659




Related Pages

On the Scottish Covenanters

History of the Reformation & Puritan Era