The Scottish Covenanters on Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom is the Church Only

 

 

Subsections

All of the Scottish Confessions, National Covenants and Declarations from the Reformation, Puritan and Covenanting Era on Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom is the Church Only

Individual Scottish Covenanters on Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom is the Church Only (Coming Soon)

 

 

Outline of the Introduction

Introduction
The Biblical Perspective of the Documents
An Overview of the Documents and their Theology

The Scottish Reformation  (1560-)
The Puritan Era  (1638-)
The Covenanting Era  (1660-1688) and Afterwards

The First Declaration Otherwise (1712) and Afterwards
Conclusion

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Introduction

to All the Scottish Confessions, National Covenants and Declarations from the Reformation, Puritan and Covenanting eras on Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom is the Church Only

Rev. Travis Fentiman
Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)

 

The claim has often been made, and it is often widely believed, that the covenants of the famed Scottish Covenanters during the 1600’s advocated that the civil magistrate is formally under the authority of the Kingship of Christ as Mediator:  

‘The reformers… in the renovation of the National Covenant [1638]… and in the Solemn League and Covenant [1643]… proceeded upon the principle of magistratical subjection to Jesus Christ.’

– Andrew Symington, Introductory Lecture on the Principles of the Second Reformation (1841) p. 13

More generally, Johannes Vos argues that 

‘…the Covenanter doctrine of… the Mediatorial Kingship of Christ over the nations, in the civil sphere, may justly be regarded as the material principle of the Covenanter movement from the [Scottish] Second Reformation [1638] to the present day.’

The Scottish Covenanters (1940, 1980) p. 226

Unfortunately these claims are historically false, being the anachronistic imposition of a later distinctive and time period upon an earlier era.  The Reformed Presbyterian theological professor, Dr. David McKay, writes:

“By the following century [the 1800’s], however, the doctrine [of the kingship of Christ as Mediator over the nations] is taken as an essential element of the Reformed Presbyterian Testimony, complete with exegesis of a number of texts, yet with little apparent awareness that it is not the doctrine of the early Covenanters.”

– ‘From Popery to Principle: Covenanters and the Kingship of Christ’ in ed. Anthony Selvaggio, The Faith Once Delivered: Essays in Honor of Dr. Wayne Spear (2007) p. 156

This page and its links exist to document that all of the Scottish Confessions, National Covenants and Declarations during the Reformation, Puritan and Covenanting eras are consistent with the majority, historic, Reformed and Biblical doctrine that the Mediatorial Kingdom of Christ is the Church only.  As will be seen the doctrine that Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom includes all things is notably absent from all of these documents, until it finally shows up in 1712 in a production by the United Societies (a very small group not representative of the larger Scottish theology of its day).

 

The Biblical Perspective of the Scots

The linked Scottish documents come from the perspective that the power and authority given to Christ the Mediator at his ascension (Mt. 28:18) is a power, as He is Head to the Church, *over* (Eph. 1:21-22) all things in heaven and earth, to direct them to the good of the Church (Eph. 1:22), but this is not such a transfer of earthly authority and powers that Christ as Mediator becomes their derivative source, that their office comes formally under his representation or headship, or that they become a part of his Kingdom.  Rather, the civil magistracy retains its power and authority from God the Trinity as Creator (Rom. 13:1-5; Ps. 82:1, including Christ as divine, Col. 2:9-10; Prov. 8:15,23), via nature (1 Pet. 2:13-14Gen. 9:5-7; 10:8-10; Jud. 9:6; 1 Sam. 11:15; 12:1, etc.), and does not proceed from Christ the Mediator.  

While civil governors are called in scripture to serve Christ (Ps. 2:9-12; 72:11) and to profess, protect and promote the true religion (Isa. 49:23, in consistency with the natural designs of their office), yet this does not in any way change the office of civil magistracy itself (Gen. 20:6-7,14-15; Dan. 6:26-27; Ezra 7:21-26), or proceed from a special commission to the civil magistrate making him Christ’s vice-regent,¹ ruling by his authority, but is rather from the common call of the gospel (Col. 3:17,23-24; Rom. 14:17-18; Mt. 17:5) that all people in their various places and callings (Ps. 148:11-131 Cor. 7:17,22; Eph. 6:5,6,9) would direct their lives and natural authority for Christ’s glory and the good of his Kingdom (Mt. 6:33), the Church (Isa. 9:7; 21:22; Lk. 1:33).   

¹ Contra William Symington, Messiah the Prince, p. 216.  Symington’s mistake is to infer from Christ’s providential permission of a nation coming into existence that therefore their rulers positively become, at Christ’s “will, authority and appointment”, Christ’s “servants”, “representatives” and “vice-regents”. 

The Church ministry, rather, alone, has received a commission from Christ (Mt. 28:19), has been given the (spiritual)  power of the Keys of Christ’s Kingdom (Mt. 16:19) and acts in the name and stead of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).

 

 

An Overview of the Documents and their Theology

 

The Scottish Reformation  (1560-1638)

While the early Scottish documents often speak of ‘the Kingdom of Jesus Christ’ as the realm of spiritual influence that Christ exerts by his power in the land where the gospel has spread, which is broader than the visible Church, yet when that same power is denominated by the ordinances and laws that it is primarily exercised through, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is defined to be the citizenship and government of the visible Church.  

Thus, the Scottish Confession of Faith (1560) speaks of Christ as the only Head of the Church and that the civil rulers, on the other-hand, are ‘the lieutenants of God’ the Trinity.  The only power that the Second Book of Discipline (1578) mentions as flowing from Christ the Mediator, is not to the civil government, but rather is ‘this power Ecclesiastical’ which ‘is spiritual’ and ‘is given immediately to the office-bearers, by whom it is exercised…’  The relation of ‘Christian princes and other magistrates’ to Christianity is put on par with ‘all the members of the kirk’ who ‘are held, everyone in his vocation, and, according thereto, to advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ so far as lies in their power.’ 

This understanding of the civil magistrate continues in the National Covenant of 1581, where the civil legislature’s confession of the Christian faith is not due to any special commission from Christ, deriving their authority from Him, being formally under Him as their Head, or any inherent design in the civil office, but rather is put on par with the confession of all citizens in their various stations and callings: 

We all and every one of us under-written, protest, That, after long and due examination of our own consciences in matters of true and false religion, we are now thoroughly resolved in the truth by the Word and Spirit of God: and therefore we believe with our hearts, confess with our mouths, subscribe with our hands, and constantly affirm, before God and the whole world, that this only is the true Christian faith and religion…”

The National Covenant  of 1581, in the legal enactments it set forth in Scotland (see the document itself), is also an ideal example of the implementation of the Biblical teaching of the Establishment Principle (which is taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646, 23.3), that the civil magistrate is to lend the natural, God-given authority of its office to enforce, according to the external man in the public sphere, the whole of God’s Moral Law (Rom. 13:3, the Ten Commandments, including the first half of them) and direct its power, in its civil capacity, to the material end of the protection and health of the true religion, establishing it as that which is outwardly countenanced by civil law in the land (according to the First Commandment, ‘You shall have no other gods before Me’).

The Establishment Principle, as it has been classically set forth in these Scottish documents, does not derive from Christ as Head of the civil government, or the civil magistrate being his vice-regent, but from general revelation, natural law (Rom. 2:14-15), and the design and authority of the office of the civil magistrate under God as Creator (Rom. 13:1-5): that the civil magistrate is to uphold the First Table of the Law as it respects civil legislation ‘around’ spiritual things (circa sacra, that is, to guard their outward well being), but not ‘in’ spiritual things (in sacra, which is the jurisdiction of the Church only, for instance, in determining matters of faith, spiritual discipline, etc.).  See the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646, 23.3 for a practical outworking of this distinction.

When the Scottish Confession of Faith (1560) and many of the later documents assert that ‘kings, princes, rulers, and magistrates’ are ‘appointed for’ ‘suppressing of idolatry and superstition’ (a violation of the Second Commandment), this is not out of a spiritual end of their civil office, but rather, as Gillespie says, because:

‘The supreme end of magistracy is only the glory of God as King of nations… and in that respect the magistrate is appointed to keep his subjects within the bounds of external obedience to the moral law, the obligation whereof lies upon all nations and all men.’

‘The subordinate end of the civil power is, that all public sins committed presumptuously against the moral law, may be exemplarily punished, and that peace, justice, and good order, may be preserved and maintained in the commonwealth…  we commonly say of the magistrate, that he is ‘the keeper of both Tables’ [of the Ten Commandments].  He is to take special care that all his subjects be made to observe the law of God, and live not only in moral honesty, but in godliness…  (Aaron’s Rod, pp. 87-88)

While the mission and design of the Church is so that ‘the inward or spiritual man’ may be taught, instructed, and saved in the Day of Christ, the design of the Civil Magistrate’s office, as an upholder of the Moral Law, is not to save, but that the offenders ‘may not be able [to commit such crimes]… or at least may not dare to do the like, the sword being appointed to be a terror to them who do evil, to restrain them from public punishable offences.’ 

Even a heathen magistrate should be concerned (and often has been) to protect the outward worship and religion of God insofar as it is known by General Revelation.  As part of the original design of the civil office by Creation is to profess, protect and promote the true religion, when the light and call of the gospel comes to a civil ruler, he recognizing Christianity to be the true religion, it is natural, right and obligatory that he direct his authority to the further light he has received (Second Book of Discipline, ch. 10.7) and to direct his affairs accordingly, though the authority, power and design of the civil office in no way changes (Gen. 20:6-7,14-15; Dan. 6:26-27; Ezra 7:21-26, etc.).  Special Revelation confirms in greater measure, clarity and specificity the Establishment Principle laid in nature and General Revelation.  

Note also in the National Covenant of 1581 that the end of the document says that the subscribers ‘call the Living God’ ‘to witness’ their covenant.  There is a popular myth that the Covenanters made God a party to their covenants.  Such is not the case in any of the documents linked to this page.  Rather, in accord with the Biblical practice described in the Westminster Confession of Faith 22.1-2, they called upon God as a witness to their covenants.  See the National Covenant (1638) and the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) for further examples of this.

 

The Puritan Era  (1638-1660)

At the heart of the Second Reformation in Scotland, after a period of downgrade, was the National Covenant (1638).  Neither it, nor Scotland’s Solemn League and Covenant (1643) with England, speaks of Christ being the Head of the civil magistrate or of his Kingdom being over all things.  The Solemn League and Covenant gives no special place to the civil government as formally under Christ, but rather states of the subscribers that:

“We shall also, according to our places and callings, in this common cause of religion, liberty, and peace of the kingdoms, assist and defend all those that enter into this League and Covenant, in the maintaining and pursuing thereof… in this cause which so much concerns the glory of God…”

The Reformed Presbyterian, Andrew Symington, speaking of the Second Reformation reformers, says that ‘it was the spirit and aim of their whole procedure to bring the nation, as well as the church, into subjection to Christ.’ (Ibid., p. 10)  This is true, though not in the way that Symington intended it, of Christ being the Mediatorial Head of the civil government.  

The aim of the Scottish reformers was to bring all the people of the nation to confess that Christ is Lord and Savior (and thus make them a part of the visible Church outwardly in the Covenant of Grace) through a social covenant encompassing the whole nation.  Both the National and the Solemn League and Covenants were also sworn to by the Scottish parliament, making this confession of Christ the civil government’s own, and that which was to be established by law in the land.  This was consistent with previous precedent in Scotland, as the civil legislature, at the Reformation in 1560, had adopted the Scottish Confession of Faith as its own Christian testimony.  

(George Gillespie has often been misunderstood in his saying that the profession of Christ comes not from the design of the civil office itself, but from the person(s) in the office, as if this lent any support to the modern ‘Voluntary’ view of Church-State relations, of the civil magistrate upholding religious pluralism in the land.  Rather, Gillespie fully affirms that Christ is to be professed, and his glory aimed at, in the execution of the public administration of the office, as in all vocations by the common call of the gospel.  See his 111 Propositions, propositions #68 & 95 and Aaron’s Rod, p. 87.)

The nation being under Christ, though, was not due to the civil government deriving its power and authority from Christ, from Christ being  the civil government’s Head, from the civil government acting in the stead of Christ, or the civil government being a part of Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom, but rather because the nation as a whole was a part of the visible Church.  Samuel Rutherford argues this in The Covenant of Life Opened, pp. 82-85, and this is why in his Letters he often speaks of Christ as the Head and King of the nation of Scotland, as the whole nation, being professing believers, was part of the visible Church, being bound outwardly in God’s Covenant of Grace.  

Naturally, as a body of people becomes Christian, this will be expressed in their civil government, as, by the common call of the gospel, Christians are exhorted that ‘whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus’ (Col. 3:17).  This doing all in the name of Christ by Christian civil governments is, according to Gillespie (Aaron’s Rod, p. 87), on par with Christian sailors, teachers, soldiers and printers: the civil government, nor any of these callings, becomes Christ’s vice-regents, acting by Christ’s delegated authority.  

Rather, the office of the Church ministry alone is the institution of Christ’s vice-regency, acting by his authority, by his power and in his stead for his spiritual designs and mission as Mediator.  The apostle Paul, speaking of the commission given to the Church ministry, says:  

‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation.  Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.’  (2 Cor. 19-20)

The Westminster Standards, having been the subject of greater examination historically, deserve a full treatment in themselves (which article is forthcoming).  Suffice it to say that the Standards define Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom as the Church, go no farther than this, all of its teachings are consistent with the traditional view, and all of the relevant scripture texts are interpreted the same way that Gillespie interpreted them in defending the view that Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom is the Church only.  

 

The Covenanting Era  (1660-1668) and Afterwards

That the national covenants of the First and Second Reformations in Scotland (1560-1660) do not contain the later doctrine of Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom being over all things could have been guessed, but what is a bit more surprising is that this peculiar doctrine does not show up in any of the declarations of the later Covenanting era either, not even those of the Cameronians (those who followed Richard Cameron in throwing off the authority of the then civil government, 1680-1688).  Insofar as the later declarations speak to the issue, they always speak of Christ’s Kingship as being over the Church.  

The most famous of the later covenanting declarations, the Informatory Declaration (1687), explicitly takes the traditional Scottish view that George Gillespie argued so prominently during the time of the Westminster Assembly.  The document speaks of Christ’s “own Church, which is his Mediatory Kingdom…” and uses the traditional categories of God’s “Kingdom of Power” as “the supreme Lord and King of all the world” versus “Christ our Lord and Mediator, in his Kingdom of Grace”.  The documents further distinguishes between:

“Civil Government, which comes from God the supreme Lord and King of all the world, and is radically [in root] seated in the people, and from them derived unto and conferred upon their magistrates and civil governors; whereas ecclesiastic government comes from Christ the Mediator, and King of his own Church, and by Him immediately conferred upon the rulers and officers of his House…”

1690 officially ended what is popularly known as the Covenanting era, when the Glorious Revolution of William and Mary ceased the persecution of presbyterians in Scotland and reorganized the presbyterian Church of Scotland under a peaceful reign.  During this time, a minority of the Cameronian lay-persons remained outside of the Church of Scotland; they continued to be known as the United Societies.  The doctrine of Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom being over all things cannot be found in their early declarations (1692-1707).   

 

 

The First Instance in a Declaration that Christ’s Mediatorial Dominion
is over all things, 1712, and Afterwards (1700’s-1800’s)

 

The first known instance of a public Scottish confession, covenant, or declaration asserting that Christ’s Mediatorial Dominion is over all things (‘dominion’ and ‘kingdom’ having a similar import and sometimes being used interchangeably), is the United Societies’ Renovation of the Covenants at Auchensaugh, 1712.

“III.  Believing that the Son of God has been, as Mediator, appointed heir of all things and invested with universal dominion…”

In 1743, the Reformed Presbytery formed out of the United Societies, becoming the fountain of all the later Reformed Presbyterian denominations.  In 1749 they published Three Propositions respecting the Mediatorial Dominion of Christ, in which they assert:

‘…that the effects and influences of his mediatorial power and government are diffused over all the inhabitants of Heaven, Earth, and Hell…’

‘…Thus Christ’s Lordship and Dominion extends to reprobates as well as others.  They are not exempted from that ‘all flesh’ which He has power over…’

‘…but also must this glorious Person be invested with a Headship of Power over them [civil magistrates], for the sake of his Body the Church…’

While the document says that the magistrate is not the ‘vice-gerent’ of Christ in the qualified way of being the ‘substitute under Him in the Church’, yet they do not deny that he is the vice-gerent of Christ, and seem to imply it in their statement that:

they still declare, that the magistrate, as Christ’s vice-gerent, is not substituted in the Church under Him.’

In 1761 the Reformed Presbyterians encapsulated their doctrine in one of their foundational declarations, though still in a very qualified way, by saying that the Church is Christ’s ‘special mediatory kingdom’, and hence implying that the ‘supreme and sovereign power given unto Him, in heaven and in earth’ constitutes his general mediatorial Kingdom (Act, Declaration and TestimonyPart IV, Ch. 7).

As noted above by Dr. McKay, it would not be until the early 1800’s that the doctrine of Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom being over all things, would be fully developed and argued at length in writing, usually in much stronger language.  Dr. McKay labels this period as ‘a New Orthodoxy’ amongst Reformed Presbyterians (Ibid., p. 156).    

While much of the development of the doctrine of Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom by the United Societies and the Reformed Presbyterians during the 1700’s may largely have been terminological in describing the same substance of the older theology in different language, yet during the 1800’s these small variations would lead to numerous significant changes in the interpretation of Biblical texts, theology and practice, many of which became distinctives of the Reformed Presbyterian family of Churches.  

 

 

Conclusion

Dr. McKay ends his historical essay in these words: 

‘By the twentieth century the doctrine of the mediatorial kingship of Christ over the nations was an established and undisputed principle in the testimony of the various branches of the Reformed Presbyterian Church that regarded themselves as the heirs of the Second Reformation in Scotland…

The transition was complete.  If anyone noticed the journey that had been undertaken from the position of Rutherford and Gillespie, no mention was made of it.’

In conclusion, to attribute the doctrine of Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom over all things, or of the magistrate being formally under the authority of Christ as Mediator, to the confessions, covenants or declarations of the Scottish Reformation, puritan or covenanting eras, or to the Scottish covenanters generally, must be considered to be an anachronism, confusing two very different Biblical and theological systems of thought.  All the confessions, national covenants and declarations of the Scottish Church from the 1500’s and 1600’s are all consistent with the Biblical and majority viewpoint from the Reformation and puritan era that Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom is the Church only.

 

 

 

 

Related Pages

The Extent of Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom

Gillespie on the Early Church and Reformation Origins of Christ’s Two Kingdoms

The Westminster Divines on the Extent of Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom

Against Separation from Impure Civil Governments

A Defense of the Majority Opinion in the Free Church of Scotland on Covenanting

The Covenant of Grace

Civil Government

The Church