Against Separatism


“And He [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.”

Luke 4:16

“And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.”

John 17:11

“That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.”

1 Cor. 12:25

“We do not leave communion of true Churches for corruptions and sins, but only abstain from the practice of evil in our own persons, and witnesse against it in others, still holding communion with the Churches of Christ.”

Edward Leigh
Body of Divinity, p. 377




Against Separation from Impure Civil Governments



Order of Contents

On the Pressing Urgency for Church Unity

The Reorganized Church of Scotland 1690
On Saying ‘Amen’

Occasional Hearing
The Separatism of the Cameronians
Works of Separatists
About Separatists



On the Pressing Urgency for Church Unity

On the Pressing Urgency of Church Unity

Here are classic quotes from Gillespie, Shields, and MacPherson, some of the strictest and most principled men church history has graced us with, on the pressing priority and urgency for Church unity, giving up everything one can for it, except the truth.  Quotes on how to work for such unity are also given.



Articles  (In order of length)

Brown, John, of Wamphray – ‘The Universal Visible Church’  1670  2 pp.

Wood, James – Separation from Corrupt Churches, 1654, 12 long paragraphs.  Wood was a professor of theology at St. Andrews in Scotland with Samuel Rutherford

Walker, James – The Theology and Theologians of Scotland of the 17th and 18th Centuries, pp. 108 ff.  1888

See especially p. 109-114 on the separatist views of the 1680’s covenanter James Renwick and the reasons for the other covenanter ministers, Shields, Lining and Boyd, entering the 1689 Church.  While one is at it, read all of chapter four on the Doctrine of the Visible Church in 1600′s Scotland.  

Walker was a theologian of the Free Church of Scotland.

Winzer, Matthew – A Review of Greg Barrow’s The Covenanted Reformation Defended  2006  18 paragraphs

The jist of the Still Waters Revival’s claims, according to Dr. Richard Bacon, is that “they maintain that we can treat churches that lack the full well-being of the church just as we would treat a false church. Then they define full well-being as including the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) and several other documents that they refer to as ‘terms of communion.’

MacPherson, John – Unity of the Church: The Sin of Schism  1901  43 paragraphs

MacPherson was a minister in the Free Church of Scotland in the late 1800’s who here masterfully surveys the thought on the broadest unity of the church during the second reformation in Scotland (mid-1600’s).  

Boston, Thomas – The Evil, Nature and Danger of Schism: a Sermon, 1 Cor. 1:10, 1708, 54 paragraphs

In the first half of this sermon Boston lays out the principles of unity from the text and defines what schism is.  In the second half Boston argues against those who remained separate from the Church of Scotland in his own day upon pretence of the Solemn League and Covenant and other impurities in the Church of Scotland post-1689.

A’Brakel, Wilhelmus – ‘The Duty to Join the Church and to Remain with Her’  1700  31 pp.  being ch. 25  in The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 2, pp. 55-86  Buy

Rutherford, Samuel – Against Separatism, part 1part 2part 3part 4  Part 1 is from Rutherford’s Due Right of Presbytery (1644).  Parts 2-4 are from his A Peacable and Temperate Plea (1642)




Paget, John – An Arrow Against the Separation of the Brownists  1618  337 pp.

Ball, John

Ball, John – A Friendly Trial of the Grounds Tending to Separation in a Plain and Modest Dispute…  1640

Ball (1585–1640) was an English divine, known for his treatise on the Covenant of Grace.  He also wrote heavily against Separatism and Independency.

An Answer to Two Treatises of Mr. John Can, the Leader of the English Brownists in Amsterdam  1642  Table of Contents



The Reorganized Church of Scotland, 1690

Primary Sources


ed. Shields, Michael – ‘Blank Letter of Protest to Enter Revolution Church’  1690  in Faithful Contendings, pp. 460-2

“…the overwhelming majority of the Society People followed their ministers and joined with the [Revolution] Church of Scotland…  The last official record (in Faithful Contendings) of the General Society was a blank letter of protest for individual Society members to use when they resumed membership in the Church of Scotland…  James Nisbet’s friend Patrick Walker left the following account of how most dealt with this dilemma”

‘All know that it was the fewest number of the United Societies, that was led off with Robert Hamilton to the disowning of King William as king of Britain and his Government; the greater part reckoned it their duty to take a legal united way of witnessing by humble pleadings, representations, and protestations, pleading for and with their mother to put away her whoredoms.’ (Walker, Six Saints, vol. 1, p. 147” – Moore, Covenant Heritage, pp. 158-9

Shields, Alexander, Lining & Boyd – An Account of the Methods and Motives of the late Union and Submission to the Assembly  ToC  1691  40 pp.

The three last Cameronian ministers give an account of their viewpoint and principles during the persecution of the 1680’s and the reasons why they joined the 1690 reorganized Church of Scotland, without going back on any of their principles.

Rule, Gilbert – ‘Of Schism’  being Section 10 of The Good Old Way Defended, p. 245 ff.  1697

Rule was a Divine-Right Presbyterian, and leader in the Revolution Church of Scotland.  For background to this work see pp. 113-114 of Walker, Theology & Theologians of Scotland.

Church of Scotland General Assembly – A Seasonable Admonition and Exhortation to Some who Separate Themselves from the Communion of the Church of Scotland, wherein is also discovered that the things they complain of are either false on the matter, or not sufficient to Warrant Separation  Buy  1698/9  27 pp.

One of the best, pastoral expositions of the principles of the Second Reformation of Scotland (quoting Durham, Rutherford, etc.) on unity to an impure Church contra separatism.

Wodrow, Robert – ‘Vindication of the Church of Scotland in Answer to a Cameronian Pamphlet’ in Correspondence, vol. 1, pp. 122-127

Walker, Patrick – ‘Postscript’, pp. 138-149 to Alexander Peden’s Life in Six Saints of the Covenant, vol. 1

[Gavin Hamilton] – ‘Just Reflections upon a Pamphlet, entitled, A Modest Reply to a Letter from a Friend to Mr John M’millan’  ([Edinburgh?], 1712)



Shields, Alexander – An Enquiry into Church-Communion, or, A Treatise Against Separation from the Revolution Settlement of this National Church, as it was settled in 1689  1706  154 pp.

This is the most extensive treatise regarding the Biblical and historical reasons for joining the Revolution Church of Scotland post-1689.  All three of the covenanter ministers to live through the Killing Times joined the Revolution Church; Shields (who co-wrote the Informatory Vindication of 1687 with James Renwick) was one of them.  Another one, Thomas Lining, endorsed his book.  Here are Shields’ arguments that apply scripture to the changed historical situation.  



ed. Peterkin, Alexander – The Constitution of the Church of Scotland, as Established at the Revolution 1689-90: Exemplified in the Acts of the Estates of Parliament and the Proceedings of the Church  1841  133 pp.


Secondary Sources

Fentiman, Travis – ‘The Constitutionality of the 1690 Church of Scotland’  being points 15-25 of ‘A Defense of the Majority Opinion in the Free Church of Scotland on Covenanting’  

Fleming, David Hay – Critical Reviews relating Chiefly to Scotland, pp. 309-315  1912

Fleming demonstrates in detail from the manuscripts that the Westminster Confession adopted by the Scottish civil parliament in 1690 was the exact same copy adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1647 with the Scripture references, contra the claims of Hewison and others.

Vogan, Matthew – ‘Alexander Shields, the Revolution Settlement, and the Unity of the Visible Church’  2013  50 pp.  Scottish Reformation Society Historical Journal, 3 (2013), pp. 109-157

Stodhill, Justin – “Alexander Shields’ Response to Sir Robert Hamilton in 1690,” Scottish Reformation Society Historical Journal 7 (2017): 73-103

Raffe, Alasdair – Ch. 6, ‘Controversy Over the Covenants’ & Ch. 7, ‘Presbyterian Separatism’ in Religious Controversy and Scottish Society, c. 1679-1714, pp. 130-180  2007 

Gives many quotes from primary sources illuminating the various views from the period.


Divine-Right Presbyterianism at 1690  (though the state only recognized it by an Erastian concession to demoncracy)

Church of Scotland General Assembly – A Seasonable Admonition and Exhortation to Some who Separate Themselves from the Communion of the Church of Scotland, wherein is also discovered that the things they complain of are either false on the matter, or not sufficient to Warrant Separation  Buy  1698/9  27 pp.

“We do believe and own that Jesus Christ is the only Head and King of His Church; and that He hath instituted in his Church, officers and ordinances, order and government, and not left it to the will of man, magistrate or Church, to alter at their pleasure.  And we believe that this government is neither prelatical nor congregational, but Presbyterian, which now, through the mercy of God, is established among us; and we believe we have a better foundation for this our Church government than the inclination of the people or the laws of men.” – p. 6

Cunningham, William – p. 451 and surrounding of Discussions on Church Principles

Johnston, John C. – II – Bibliography, ‘Literature of the Later Covenanters’, p. 367 ff.  in Treasury of the Covenant

Johnston provides an annotated bibliography for covenanters of that era, including that of the many divine-right presbyterians in the Reorganized Church of Scotland.

Raffe, Alasdair – ‘Presbyterianism, Secularization and Scottish Politics after the Revolution of 1688-1690’  2010  20 pp.

Abstract:  “The article focuses on what contemporaries called the ‘intrinsic right’ of the church: its claim to independent authority in spiritual matters and ecclesiastical administration. The religious settlement of 1690 gave control of the kirk to clergy who endorsed divine right Presbyterianism, believed in the binding force of the National Covenant (1638) and the Solemn League and Covenant (1643), and sought to uphold the intrinsic right…  and that historians have exaggerated the pace of liberalization in Scottish Presbyterian thought.”

Cunningham, William

The questions and formula of subscription for officers implemented at the Revolution Settlement (1694, 1711) involved affirming that “the Presbyterian government and discipline of this church are founded upon the Word of God, and agreeable thereto.”  This has been criticized because the proposition affirmed does not say that presbyterianism is THE government instituted by the Word of God.  However, this criticism is mistaken in its understanding, as Cunningham demonstrates

Historical Theology, vol. 1, p. 76

“The language here employed is cautious and temperate, and is thus well suited to the circumstances of a solemn profession to be made by a numerous body of men, who might not all see their way to concur in stronger and more specific phraseology.

Besides, it is to be observed that the profession respects not merely the fundamentals or essentials of Presbyterianism in the abstract, which alone can be reasonably maintained to have the clear and positive sanction of apostolic practice; but ‘the Presbyterian government and discipline of this church,’ including the detailed development of the essential principles of Presbyterianism as exhibited in the actual constitution and arrangements of our church, and of all this in the concrete, or taken complexly, nothing higher or stronger could with propriety be affirmed, than that it is founded upon the word of God, and agreeable thereto.”



The Ungodly Joining in Prayer is not a Ground of Separation

Rutherford on Saying ‘Amen’, No Reason for Separation



Occasional Hearing

Sometimes separatists make much of the doctrine of the evil of occassional hearing.  This refers to it being morally evil to hear the sermons and writings of ministers that have certain corruptions that the particular separatists have separated from.  While there is truth and legitimate applicability in this principle in certain circumstances, it is often taken way too far.

What is not well known are the writings and arguments for occasional hearing: that the priority of the unity of Christ’s Church is of more binding weight than whatever corruptions such a minister may be involved in.  Philip Nye, the Westminster divine, was an Independent (Independency is inherently separatistic).  John Robinson was a founding father of Separatism.  And they both argue from Scripture below for Occasional Hearing.

Nye, Phillip – A Case of Great and Present Use whether we may Lawfully hear the now conforming ministers who are re-ordained and have renounced the Covenant and some of them supposed to be scandalous in their lives, considered and affirmatively resolved  1677

Philip Nye was a Westminster divine that exhorted at the taking of the Solemn League and Covenant.  He was also an Independent, and still argues for Occassional Hearing.

Robinson, John – A Treatise on the Lawfulness of Hearing of the Ministers in the Church of England  1634  19 pp.  in Works, vol. 3, pp. 339-378

John Robinson was one of the founding fathers of Separatism, and he still argues for the lawfulness of occasional hearing.




George Gillespie  1646

Aaron’s Rod Blossoming, ‘To the Reader’, p. xix

“When I speak of this divine ordinance of church government, my meaning is not to allow, much less to animate any in the too severe and over-strict exercise of ecclesiastical discipline and censures.  It was observed by Jerome (Ad Marcellum), as one of the errors of the Montanists: Illi ad omne pene delictum ecclesiae obserant fores, They shut the church door (that is, they excommunicate and shut out of the church) almost at every offence.

I confess the greater part are more apt to fail in the defect than in the excess, and are like to come too short rather than to go too far.  Yet a failing there may be, and has been, both ways…  My purpose and endeavor shall be…  to own the thing, to disown the abuses of the thing, to point out the path of Christ’s ordinance without allowing either rigour against such as ought to be tenderly dealt with, or too much lenity towards such as must be saved with fear, and pulled out of the fire, or at all any aberration to the right or left hand.”


Francis Turretin

Institutes, vol. 3, 18th Topic, ‘The Church’, 32nd Question, ‘Ecclesiastical Discipline and Excommunication’, section IV, p. 294

“Here it is particularly to be observed that this [Church] discipline exercises such a degree of severity as is always connected with a spirit of kindness…  it can easily be judged thence how far to proceed and where severity ought to cease…  otherwise rigor exceeds the proper bound.

Hence the immoderate austerity of the ancients cannot be approved, which was both contrary to the prescription of God and was exposed to great dangers…  Therefore that spiritual sword is not to be unsheathed for a trivial cause (as is the case everywhere among the Anabaptists), but all things are to be first tried and only by degrees ought we to resort to extreme measures…”


Wilhelmus A’Brakel  1700

The Christian’s Reasonable Service  Buy  vol. 2, ch. 25, ‘The Duty to Join the Church and to Remain with Her’, p. 61-62 is a dreadful sin to depart from the church for the purpose of establishing one which is better, for the church is one, being the body of Christ.  To separate ourselves from the church is to separate from the people of Christ and thus from His body, thereby withdrawing from the confession of Christ and departing from the fellowship of the saints.  If we indeed deem the church to be what she really is, we shall then cause schism in the body of Christ, grieve the godly, offend others, give cause for the blaspheming of God‟s Name, and cause the common church member to err.  By maintaining that the church is no church, we thereby deny the church of Christ, and therefore are also guilty of the sins just mentioned.  We thereby displease God, who will not leave this unavenged, regardless of how much we please and flatter ourselves.  Such activity the apostle opposes when he refers to such individuals as being carnal in 1 Cor 3:1, 3.  He warns against this when he writes, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you” (1 Cor 1:10); “I hear that there be divisions among you” (1 Cor 11:18).

[To see more of what A’Brakel has to say and the context that he was speaking to, see Andrew Myers’ article, ‘The Spirit of Labadism’]


Thomas Boston

The Evil, Nature and Danger of Schism, a Sermon  1708

The first prejudice then is, That those who dissent and separate from us are the strictest party.  In answer to this…

As for strictness of opinions, as to government and church communion, if we measure strictness according to the dictates of men’s own spirits, we will yield to them for strictness; and so would our Lord to the Pharisees, and the apostles to the false teachers.  But if we measure strictness according to the Word of God, we deny they are strictest, but they are indeed widest from the rule.  I will follow Christ to the synagogue of the Jews (I hope some of you at least may understand what I say [who had corruptions in their worship and government]) and in so doing I will be more strict than those that scruple to follow Christ’s example, for fear they be involved in the guilt of the corruptions among them; for the nearer I follow Christ, the more strict I am, if strictness be measured according to the Word of God…



The Separatism of the Cameronians  1680’s

William Mathieson, Politics and Religion, a Study in Scottish History from the Reformation to the Revolution, vol. 2 (1639-1690), p. 293  circa 1679-80  Mr. Riddle was an orthodox and godly resisting presbyterian, who owned the authority of the Scottish king (upon conviction).

“…a minister named Riddell, who was confined with them [Cameronians] in the Tolbooth [in Edinburgh], because he had refused to promise not to preach in the fields…  Riddell, however, could make nothing of the prisoners, who refused to pray with him or even to hear him pray.”  


Patrick Walker, Six Saints of the Covenant, vol. 1, pp. 143

“The Gibbites in 1681, and Russelites in 1682, and for some years, did maintain the same unhappy principles and practices [as the M’Millanites]; and stated their testimonies against paying of excise and customs, and other fool things, not only for themselves, but separation from all that durst not go their lengths, even when imprisoned together going as far from us as the walls of the prison would allow them, and stopping their ears when we went about public worship three times a day, which was our ordinary [practice] in each room…”


Edwin Nisbet Moore – Our Covenant Heritage (2000)  Moore is very sympathetic with the Cameronians.

p. 103

“…[James] Renwick possessed great character, knowledge and spirit.  Unfortunately, a faction persistently refused to hear Renwick for a variety of hair-splitting reasons, including Renwick’s ordination [in 1683 in Holland by the reformed Dutch Church] by those who used musical instruments in worship services.  Even Reverend [Alexander] Peden initially warned people against Renwick.

To compound their worries at home, public sentiment abroad turned against the Society People.  Many abroad were concerned with the remnant’s controversial views on several subjects: namely, their refusal to acknowledge the king’s authority, their overly restrictive requirements for fellowship, and their lack of ecclesiastical capability to call and oversee ministers.  These concerns made it almost impossible to ordain additional ministers abroad (Shields, Faithful Contendings, pp. 100-101).

The following questions posed to attendees to the General Society meetings are illustrative of the extent to which they went to remain free of the defections of the day:

(1) Do ye know the principles and practices of these societies from whom ye have your commission?
(2) Do ye and they own our covenants and engagements, our faithful Declarations and Testimonies?
(3) Are ye and they free of giving any manner of bond to the enemies?
(4) Are ye and they free of paying cess [a tax], locality, and any militia money?
(5) Are ye and they free of paying stipends to the curates or to the Indulged?
(6) Are ye and they free of taking the enemies’ pass or protection?
(7) Are ye and they free of answering unto enemies their courts?
(8) Are ye and they free of capitulation any manner or way with the enemies, or furnishing them with commodities?
(9) Are ye and they free of counseling and consenting to any in their compliance, any of their foresaid ways, for you, in your name?
(10) Are ye and they free of joining with the curates or indulged, by hearing them preach, accepting the administration of the sacraments at their hands, subjecting unto their discipline, or being married by them?
(11) Are ye and they free of joining any of the foresaid ways of complying, unfaithful, and silent ministers of the time?

The severity of life on the run combined with the endless criticism from home and abroad bore hard on the Society People.”


p. 117

“After the defeat [of Argyle’s expedition, 1685], two of the ministers who came over with Argyle’s party sought to join with the Society.  The Society rejected them because they had left the country during a time of need, joined with Indulged ministers in worship, spoken out against the Society, associated with Argyle’s expedition, and had not supported [Donald] Cargill and [Richard] Cameron.

In their defense, the two ministers compared their associations abroad with Renwick’s foreign ordination and expressed concerns regarding the Society’s testimonies and declarations.  The two ministers would not abstain from fellowship with the Indulged, but ‘declared their willingness to lay things in present controversy aside, until they should be determined by a competent judicatory [which the Society People were not].’ (Shields, Faithful Contendings, pp. 168-182)

The Society members, finding these terms unacceptable, decided not to join with these two ministers.  Some left with the two ministers resulting in yet another painful division. (Ibid., 169)…  [Patrick] Walker also listed James Nisbet as one who could attest to the conflicts that took place among the Society members during this time.

James memoir describes how he saw first hand the divisions that resulted from the Argyle affair:

‘But, alas!  I got my comforts a little lowered this day upon the reason following: There came to that meeting some of the worthy gentlemen who came home this year with the Earl of Argyle on his expedition; they and some other of our Christian friends looked shy and cold upon one another upon the account of some difference in judgment and opinion that was among them. 

[This] was matter of sorrow of heart to me now, but much more so afterwards, when I saw the woeful consequences thereof; for I quickly observed that these differences of opinion occasioned much alienation of affection, even among those who were otherwise truly religious. 

Likewise, it served much to eat out the vitals of religion in the waste of much precious time, which was spent in debating and contending, which might otherwise have been very usefully spent in seeking after and in pursuit of the one thing needful, the better part, which could not have been taken from them.’ (Nisbet, Private Life, pp. 114-15)”


p. 159

“James Nisbet agonized over this difficult choice…  should he join the clearly imperfect Church of Scotland?  Based on the following account form his memoir, it is likely that he parted from the Society shortly after the Revolution Settlement because of the dangerous errors and behaviors of its members:

‘The criticizing upon and censuring of all others who are not exactly of their judgment in every punctilio, grievously aggravating their faults and often fixing some where there is none; yea, seldom sparing one another even where they are one in judgment, [they made] the terms of their communion straighter than what God allows in his Word.  They will allow no masters of families to be of their communion who pay any taxes to the present government, making no difference betwixt this legal and the former illegal and tyrannical government.  they will allow no children or servants to be in their communion who obey their parents and masters in doing any service to those in public trust in the government.  They will allow none to hear any of the present ministry, even though transiently, to be in their communion.  They spend the most part of their precious time in arguing and praying against the sins and defections of the public, neglecting to watch the heart; and here, to my shame, I was greatly guilty of this, among others.  We spent much of our precious time in framing arguments to debate with others, greatly neglecting to be distinctly acquainted with the principles of the Christian religion and to be savingly acquainted with the inward and serious part of real godliness.  They would publish a declaration disowning the authority of the great King William [of the Glorious Revolution, 1689 ff.] and against the validity of the present church communion.

When I earnestly besought, with much entreaty, that every article of that declaration might be reasoned, they would not allow it…  Thus my protesting, and refusing to join with them, enraged them exceedingly against me.  As their scourge of tongues was grievously bent against others, so now was it against myself in a most grievous, unjust, and unreasonable manner…  Thus, I left that party of the dissenters who now commonly go under the name of Mr. McMillan’s people…’  (Nisbet, Private Life, pp. 235-238)”



Works of Separatists

Works of Separatists



About Separatists

Powicke, Fred – Henry Barrow, Separatist (1550?-1593) and the Exiled Church of Amsterdam (1593-1622)  1900  349 pp.




Related Pages

Social Covenanting

The Westminster Divines on Social Covenanting

The Unity of the Church

Independent Churches do not have the Right of Greater Excommunication