Reformed Perspectives Magazine


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Reformed Perspectives Magazine,, Volume 9, Number 10, March 4 to March 10, 2007

A Free Disputation

Against pretended
Liberty of Conscience Tending

To Resolve Doubts Moved by Mr. John Goodwin,

John Baptist, Dr. Jer. Taylor, the Belgic Arminians, Socinians, and other Authors
contending for lawless Liberty or licentious Toleration of Sects and Heresies.

By Samuel Rutherford

Professor of Divinity

In the University of St. Andrews

Psalm 119:45

And I will walk at liberty, for I seek thy precepts.


Printed by R.I. for Andrew Crook, and are to be sold at his

Shop, at the sign of the Green Dragon in St. Paul’s

Church-yard. MDCIL.


Godly and impartial Reader.

I offer (Worthy Reader) to your unpartiall and ingenuous censure these my ensuing thoughts against Liberty of conscience, from which way looking to me with a face of Atheism, I call the Adversaries, Libertines, not intending to reach a blow to any godly man, or to wound those who out of weakness are captived with that error, but to breed in the hearts of the godly a detestation of that way, which in truth hath its rise from Libertinism, and savoureth rankly of wide, loose and bold Atheistical thoughts of the majesty of God, as if our conscience had a Prerogative Royal beside a rule; yea (which is prodigious) in its simple apprehensions of God, of the Mediator, of the revealed will of God, above the Law of God: So I think, and all say so, and our faith and hope must be resolved in the first principle of skepticism. So it seems to me, for the young daughters of the mind, the simplest acts of apprehendding, knowing, believing God and divine truths are innocent, harmless ill-less soul-works, being from un- der all dominion of either freewill or a divine Law, and the mind, a free born absolute Princess, can no more incur guiltiness in its operations about an infi- nite Sovereign God, and his revealed will, by this law- less way, then the fire in burning, the Sun in enlightening, the stone in moving downward, be arraigned of any breach of Law, if toleration have place.

2. All certainty of believing, all steadfastness, rooting, and unmovable establishing in the truth, all life of consolations and comforts in the Scriptures, all peace of heavenly confidence, all joy unspeakable and full of glory, all lively hope, all patient and submissive waiting for the fruits of the harvest, all wrestling in prayer, all gloriation in tribulation, and all triumphing in praising, all rejoicing in the Spirit, being bottomed on fallible opinions, on doubtful disputations of skeptics, may be the reelings of windmills, fair fancies, and dreams; for who (say they) is infallible: and who hath known the mind of the Lord? so as the truth must be monopolized to any one Sect, or way? Who in faith or fullness of assurance can convince or rebuke gainsayers, heretics, or such as bring another doctrine, as Those whom you so labor to convince and rebuke?
3. Conscience is hereby made every man’s Rule, Umpire, Judge, Bible, and his God, which if he follow, he is but at the worst, a godly, pious, holy Heretic, who feareth his conscience more than his creator, and is to be judged of you a Saint.
4. Hence conscience being deified, all rebuking, exhorting, counter-arguing, yea all the Ministry of the Gospel must be laid aside; no man must judge brother Idolater, or brother Familist, or Saints to be Socinians, or men of corrupt minds, perverse disputers, vain-janglers, wresters, rackers, or torturers of Scripture, whose words eat as a canker, who subvert whole houses, who speak the visions of their own head, and see false burdens, for all these who were of old, but are now quite gone out of the world; for who can make a window in any man’s soul, and see there heart-obstinacy which only doth essentially constitute the heretic, the blasphemer, the false prophet?

But is not brotherly forbearance, Christian indulgence a debt we owe to brethren, Saints, and the truly godly in errors, and mind infirmities, which by a natural emanation or resultance get the fore-start of freewill?

To which I shall speak in these few considerations.
1. It is much to be desired with the prayers and suits of the children of God, that where there are two opinions, there may be one heart, that the Father of Spirits would unite the hearts of all the children of one Father, and the heirs of one house.
2. Papists here have exceeded in boundless domination and tyranny over the consciences of men: and what ever is contrary to the lawless decrees of their Councils and Popes, is an unexpiable heresy, and cannot be purged but by fire and fagot. 2. Who ever refuse subjection of conscience to that Enemy of Christ, and to that woman-mistress of witchcrafts, on whose skirts is found the blood of the martyrs of Jesus, is presently an heretic, and his arguments answered with burning-quick, this tyranny over conscience we disclaim; yet for that ought not the other extremity of wild toleration be embraced.
3. We cannot think but all Saints in this side of glory carry to heaven with them errors, mistakes, and prophesying in part, and the fairest Stars and lights in this lower firmament of the Church are clouded, and the benefit of the Moon serves to enlighten the under garden of Lillies, where Christ feedeth, till the day break, and the shadows flee away. And here brotherly indulgence and reciporation of the debt of compassionnate forbearance of the infirmities one of another must have place.

4. Yet so, as there can be no conflict of grace against grace; nor can the taking off the Foxes which destroy the Vines, be contrary to the gentleness and meekness of the Saints in fulfilling the law of love, and bearing one another’s burdens, nor can love seated essentially in a new born child of the second birth be contrary to the zeal of God in withstanding to the face a Saint looking awry, and walking not with a straight foot according to the truth of the gospel; which way if heeded in sincerity, should breed more union of hearts, and be a greater testimony of faithfulness to a straying sheep, than our cruel meekness, and bloody gentleness in a pretended bearing with tender consciences under a color of paying the debt of bastard love, while as we suffer millions to perish, through silence and merciless condolency with them in their sinful depraving of the truth.



In the Lord Jesus,

S. R.

The Contents
Chapt. 1. Of Conscience and its Nature.

  • The name Conscience

  • Conscience the practical knowledge

  • Conscience a power, not an act or habit

  • What sort of knowledge is ascribed to the Conscience

  • Of the sunthresis

  • Of Conscience in relation to the major Assumption and Conclusion of a practical Syllogism

  • The object of Conscience

  • Conscience to be reverenced

  • Of obligation of Conscience, and the acts therefrom resulting

  • Of witnessing of Conscience, and self reflection

  • The knowledge of our own state of grace, may be had by the fruits of the Spirit of Sanctification

  • Acts of Conscience in relation to the Conclusion

  • A Conscience good or ill

  • A good Conscience

  • Conscience the rarest peace that God made

  • A tender Conscience

  • Who engross the name of tender Consciences to themselves

  • Of a Scrupulous Conscience

  • The causes of a Scrupulous Conscience

Chapt. 2. Conscience under Synods, and how; and that the Conscience cannot have absolute liberty in matters of religion.

  • How a Synod compelleth

  • The Conditions that Libertines require to be in a Synod

  • Liberty to question everything is License

  • The Church though not infallible, may determine infallible points

  • A Confession, Covenant, or Synodical decree, a secondary rule of Faith

  • A Ministerial and public, and a Christian and private judgment and faith how they differ

  • Libertines give us Skepticism and Fluctuation for Faith

  • There is need of Interpretation and decision of Synods

  • That Confessions ought to be only in express Scripture words, is another false principle of Libertines

  • Ancient bonds of Liberty of Conscience

  • The end of Synods is not to remove heresies by any means good or bad, or to crush heresy so effectually as these heresies shall never be heard of in the world again

  • The necessity of Synods

  • Pastors subject the disobedient to wrath, yet are not lords over the conscience; ergo, neither are Synods lords over the conscience for that

  • The subject of a Synod not a skeptic conjectural truth as Liber tines suppose

  • The sense of Scripture from Synods believed truly to be infallible, although Synods consist of men who are not infallible, as an earthen pitcher doth contain gold and precious rubies and sapphires in it, though there be no gold in the matter of the pitcher but only clay, 2 Cor. 4.7

  • How a true decision of a Synod is ever the same and not retractable

  • Though all truths be peremptorily decided in the word, yet is there need of a ministerial and declarative decision of men, because teachers may deceive, and those that are taught are ignorant and dull

  • Men are to come to Synods not as Nullifidians but as engaged for Truth

  • Synods may impose on others and how?

  • Ancient bonds or Liberty of Conscience stated
  • The conditional imposing of Synods consisteth well with trying of all things, what Libertines say on the contrary is naught

  • Conditional imposing proveth the imposer to be no lord of conscience

Chapt. 3. The Church may complain of heretics

  • Pastors are not out of their calling, nor apparitors, nor tale-bearers, if they complain to the magistrate of heretics

Chapt. 4. The state of the question of compulsion of conscience and toleration

  • Opinions cannot be compelled, nor the mind or will in the elicit acts.

  • The question is, whether the magistrate may compulsorily restrain the external act of the outward man in religion

  • Shame and fear of rebukes, by pastors and church censures have the same compulsory influences on false teachers, that the fear of public punishment by the Synod hath

  • Church censures are as compulsory on the conscience, as coercing by the sword

  • Some external actions of injustice flowing from mere conscience are punished justly, without any note of persecution by grant of Libertines, and why not all others also?

  • Ancient bonds of liberty of conscience

  • Discountenancing of men and negative punishing of them for their conscience is punishing of them.

  • Ancient bonds p.12

  • How religion may be compelled, how not

  • One mans religion remaining in the mind and will, may hurt or benefit the man himself, not any others: but true religion, as it comes forth into acts of teaching may edify and win others, and false religion may subvert the faith of others
  • The magistrate does not command religious acts as service to God, but rather forbids their contraries, as disservice to Christian societies

  • How Turtullian and Lactantius are to be expounded of forcing to heathen religion

  • Though we can compel none to religion, it follows not that the magistrate may not punish those that seduce others to false religion

  • Lactantius speaks of compulsion without all teaching

  • Those that are without the church are not to be compelled

  • Because the magistrate’s compulsion makes heretics it followeth not, he should not punish heretics, for so he should not punish murderers

  • The magistrate may by the sword curb such impediments, that keep men from embracing the truth, according to Augustine

  • Answer to Doctor Adam Stewart

  • Impotency of free will objected by Master John Goodwin, no reason why the magistrate ought not to punish seducing teachers, as the Donatists of old objected

  • State of the question more strictly proposed

  • It may as well be said because there be no express laws against murderers, parricides, sorcerers, sodomites, in the New Testament more than against false teachers, that therefore sorcerers are no less than heretics to be tolerated

Chapt. 5. Of Fundamentals

  • The number of fundamentals

  • A saving disposition of faith to believe all truths revealed, though the man be ignorant of many, may consist with the state of grace.

  • Three things that are among those to be believed. 1.Things simply Necessary 2.Simply profitable 3.By consequence necessary; how the Papists err in these

  • Some consequences necessary
  • Builders of hay and stubble on the foundation may be saved, and those that fall in murder and adultery out of infirmity may be also saved? Yet there is no consequence; ergo, the magistrate should tolerate both

Chapt. 6. Errors in non-fundamentals obstinately held are punishable

  • Obstinacy in ceremonies after full information deserveth punishment

  • Those that err in non-fundamentals, may deserve to be punished.

  • To teach the necessity of circumcision, not an error formally and primarily, but by consequence fundamental; and the contrary truth not necessary, necessitate medii

  • The toleration of all who err in non-fundamentals examined

  • Queries proposed to M. John Goodwin, who asserteth a catholic toleration of all religions, upon the ground of weakness of freewill, and want of grace?

  • Most arguments of Libertines infer a catholic toleration in non-fundamentals, as well as in fundamentals

  • What deductions the Spirit makes in the soul of an elect knowing but a few fundamentals and going out of this life who knoweth?

  • To know revealed truths of God is a commanded worship of God?

  • One general confession of faith without a particular sense containing the true and orthodox meaning of the word not sufficient

  • Divers pious conferences between us and Lutherans

  • They hate God and love blasphemies in the consequence who obstinately hold to them in the antecedents

  • They may be false teachers and so punishable who err not in fundamentals

  • Divers things not fundamentally believed with certainty of faith

  • Believing of truths revealed of God with a reserve, blasphemous, and turneth believers into Skeptics and Nullifidians

  • Believing with a reserve against the motion of the Holy Ghost

  • Believing with a reserve against the stability of faith
  • Against the trying of all things, and spirits, enjoined by the Holy Ghost

  • Faith with a reserve against our prayers for knowledge and growing therein

  • The Holy Ghost bids us not believe with a reserve

  • To believe with a reserve contrary to our doing, and suffering for truth and faith

  • Two distinctions necessary touching controverted points

  • Some things of their own nature not controversial, yet the deductions from them to our blind nature are controversial

  • Fundamentals of faith most controversial to our blind nature

Chapt. 7. What opinions may be tolerated, what not.

  • Some far off errors may be tolerated

  • Schism and actual gathering of churches out of churches cannot be tolerated

  • The place of Romans 14 willing us to receive the weak, no plea for toleration

  • Philippians 3:15 Let us walk according to the same rule, etc… nothing for toleration

Chapt. 8. Whether heresy be a sin or a mere error and innocency, whether a heretic be an evil doer?

  • Libertines make heresy a mere innocent and unpunishable error of the mind

  • Heresy is a sin as well as idolatry though we could neither define heresy nor idolatry

  • Heresy proved to be a heinous sin

  • The Holy Ghost contrary to Libertines, supposeth undeniably that heretics are known, and so they are not known to God only, when he bids us beware of them, avoid them, bid them not God speed
  • Pertinacity may be, and is known to men

  • Heresy a wicked resisting of the truth, and yet not blasphemy against the Holy Ghost

  • Libertines say that a heretic dying for his heresy hath no evil conscience, but a spiritual and heavenly end

  • The vain glory of the devils, martyrs who die for heresy

  • Spiritual stupidity and malice both together in heretics and Satan’s martyrs

  • Some ignorance consists with the sin against the Holy Ghost.

Chapt. 9. Of Liberty of Prophesying, of erroneous indictments of conscience, that it is not our rule.

  • Who is a heretic to Arminians, Titus 3:10

  • None to Libertines are heretic, but such as profess a religion, which they believe with persuasion to be false

  • Liberty of prophesying taken in a threefold sense

  • To desire false prophets to cease out of the land is no quenching of the Spirit

Chapt. 10. Of Indulgence in Fundamental or Non-fundamental Errors.

  • How the Arminian Libertines do define a heretic

  • Heretics to Libertines only such as deny things knowable by the light of nature

  • Diversity of opinions among them

  • The punishing of men for publishing of fundamental errors, and the indulgence of a toleration yielded to them though they teach all errors in non-fundamentals, a vain distinction, and hath no ground in scripture
  • Some murders non-fundamental in David which yet are consistent with the state of salvation, should as well be tolerated, as some errors in non-fundamentals by the distinction of Libertines

  • Some non-fundamentals clearly in the word revealed, not to be believed with a reserve, and other non-fundamentals with a reserve.

  • Queries propounded to Libertines

  • Why may not the Magistrate lawfully spare the life of him, who out of a Libertine conscience merely sacrificeth his child to God? or, Why should he punish with the sword, some acts not destructive to peace in the conscience of the punished, and not all acts of the same kind?

  • To compel men to do against their conscience, that is, to sin, neither in Old or New Testament is lawful, Deuteronomy 13 and 17

  • There is the same obligation, the same formal reason (so saith the Lord) of believing non-fundamentals revealed, and fundamentals, and the same necessity of divine command, not the same necessity of means, called necessitas medii

Chapt. 11. Of Obliging Power of Conscience.

  • The state of the question touching the obligation that conscience layeth on us

  • Ancient bonds of liberty of conscience Sect. 2 Chap. 6 p.26.

  • Though the magistrate punish false teachers it follows not, that he compels them to sin against their conscience

  • God’s way and manner of calling, is no ground why the magistrate should not punish false teachers

  • Ancient bonds of liberty of conscience Chapt. 6 p.26

  • Who is the self-condemned heretic, Titus 3:10

Chapt. 12. Arguments against pretended toleration.

  • Toleration hath no warrant in the word

  • Toleration inferreth skepticism

  • Want of infallibility in new Testament, no reason for the toleration in the new Testament

  • Toleration is against faith, hope, comfort in the Scriptures.

  • Toleration is against the ministry of the word

  • Rulers by the fourth commandment are to see all under them worship God

  • Proposals of the army under Sir Thomas Fairfax 12.p.10

Chapt. 13. Magistracy and perpetual laws in the Old Testament warrant the civil coercing of false prophets.

  • Rulers as rulers, not as typical rulers, punished false teachers with the sword

  • Typicalness did not privilege all the kings of Judah and Israel to compel the conscience and punish false teachers as Libertines say

  • How typicalness priviledgeth men to such and such actions, how not.

  • Seducers punished by bodily death

  • Punishing of idolaters and blasphemers of the Law of Nature.

  • How wars that are extraordinary in the manner, and in some particular acts, may be and are in the substance of the acts, ordinary rules obliging us

  • The law of God warranted by the law teacheth that false teachers and heretics are to be punished with the sword

  • The law of Deuteronomy 17:2, 3 for punishing idolaters

  • There was no consulting with the oracle who should be put to death for his conscience in the Old Testament, but an ordinary way of trying evil doers by judicial proceeding and hearing of witnesses
  • The end of punishing of false teachers with the sword is not their conversion to God (ministers of the Gospel only labor in that field) but the not perverting of souls, and disturbing the safety of human societies

  • Sacrificing of Children to Molech punished with death by God’s law, not as murder, but as spiritual whoredom

Chapt. 14. Cavils against coercive judicial laws, for punishing false prophets in the old Testament.

  • Laws punishing false teachers were moral, not temporary and pedagogical

  • Power of fathers and masters in the fourth commandment coercive.

  • Compelling to hypocrisy for fear of shame and reproaches, as guilty as compelling men with the sword, not to publish heresies, nor seduce others

  • A third answer

  • Blasphemers and idolaters never were judged to die by consulting with the immediate oracle of God, as John Goodwin imagineth, Hagiomastix Sections 34, 35, 36, 37

  • We have as sure a word of scripture, as immediate consulting with the oracle of God

  • Want of infallibility should exclude all judges to judge, pastors to preach or write, Synods to advise, because we cannot do these with prophetical infallibility

  • A twofold typicalness in the Old Testament, one merely ceremonial, unreducible, another typical, but of civil and natural use; the use of the latter ceaseth not, because it was sometime typical, so is punishing of seducers

  • Seducers of old denied no other-waies God, than our false prophets now a-days do deny him

  • Not only those who offend against the principles of nature, but those that publish and hold errors against the supernatural principles of the Gospel are to be punished by the sword

  • Such as slew their children to Molech denied no more the word of God than our heretics now do
  • There be false prophets now under the New Testament as there were under the Old Testament

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