Shaun de Freitas and Andries Raath, “Samuel Rutherford and the protection of religious freedom in early seventeenth-century Scotland,” Westminster Theological Journal 78 (2016), pp. 231-48 [this article is available on open access here]

In this article, De Freitas and Raath, who are professors of law at the University of the Free State, South Africa, set out to reconsider the constitutional response to human sin, and its concomitant doctrine of church-state relations, “at the dawn of the Enlightenment” (pp. 231, 234). The authors make a series of arguments against the assumptions of “modern-day critics of Rutherford, such as John Coffey, who depict Rutherford as an anti-tolerationist and in the process overlook the value of Rutherford’s thinking against the background of the protection of the Presbyterian situation in early seventeenth-century Scotland” (p. 232). Coffey is certainly a big target: not only is he the principal Rutherford scholar, but he has also written a defining text on persecution and toleration, Persecution and toleration in Protestant England, 1558-1689 (2000), to which the authors do not refer. Neither do the authors offer any engagement with an earlier article in the same journal, by the present author, which also offers a reading of Rutherford’s legal theory [“Samuel Rutherford and liberty of conscience,” WTJ 71 (2009), pp. 355-73].

This article tends not to use primary texts, and often cites early modern editions at second hand. A number of its assertions are contestable, including the statement that “Anabaptists and Independents … understood the sinful nature of man (and therefore also of the civil authorities) as reason to oppose subscription to a formal and uniform religious truth” (p. 231), which hardly takes into account the work of confessional production undertaken by Independents throughout the 1650s. Perhaps its most significant omission is not to consider the implications of the Blasphemy Act (1648), which was supported by English Presbyterian MPs as the high point of the reformation to which the Westminster Assembly had contributed, which criminalised anyone who argued that Presbyterian government was unlawful. After all, as the Westminster Confession stated, liberty of conscience did not imply liberty to sin (WCF 20:3-4). In terms of religious liberty, at least, the mid-seventeenth century is not yet “the dawn of the Enlightenment.”








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