A Westminster Bibliography Part 3

Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10


By Richard Bacon


A Review of Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici By Richard Bacon

Sundry Ministers of London: Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici (The Divine Right of Church Government). David Hall, editor. Dallas: Naphtali Press, 1995. 282 + lii. $49.95 limited hardback edition; $19.95 student edition.

This well-built volume from Naphtali Press is a new edition of a document first published in December 1646 under the auspices of the London Provincial Assembly. The significance of the publication of this volume is twofold: first, it comes during the 350th anniversary of the time that these debates were occurring and second, it comes at a time in which a major Presbyterian body in this country seems to be developing a sort of "identity crisis" concerning church government. 1

The London Provincial Assembly consisted of the Reformed or Presbyterian ministers in and around London. The Long Parliament, which had originally called the Westminster Assembly in 1643, was generally desirous of a "Presbyterian-like" settlement, but was also committed to an Erastian structure that would make Parliament the highest court in the English church.

While we may never know precisely from whose pen Jus Divinum2 came, the London Provincial Assembly included among its members such English Presbyterian worthies as William Spurstowe and Edmund Calamy (two of the co-authors of the earlier SMECTYMNUUS), 3 William Gouge, Thomas Manton, and Thomas Gataker. 4

The form of church government finally established by the English Parliament was characterized by Scottish commissioner Robert Baillie as a "lame Erastian Presbytery." Hopefully, with more and more Presbyterian (and other) churches going hat in hand to the government for papers of incorporation, a proper Westminster view of the relationship between church and state as presented in Jus Divinum will prevent the rise of a new "Democratic Erastianism" in this country. As the church's courts and committees seem to be more concerned with limiting legal liability than with proclaiming the whole counsel of God, perhaps we can all benefit not only from the insight, but from the courage as well, of a group of ministers who stood toe-to-toe with a parliamentary Caesar and did not blink.

During the year preceding the publication of the Jus Divinum, the Westminster Assembly qua assembly was threatened by Parliament with a praemunire. 5 It was therefore inopportune for the Assembly itself to write Jus Divinum, as the law calling the Assembly gave it no such authority.

The reasons for the publication of Jus Divinum are rooted in the Erastian/Presbyterian debate within the Westminster Assembly. There were only a few Erastians in the Assembly, but they were quite vocal and clearly were supported by many in Parliament. When the Westminster Assembly reported its conclusions concerning church government to the Parliament in November 1644, the question of the divine right of church government was raised by Parliament. However, the Parliament had other matters before it that were considered more urgent and tabled the Assembly's report; but the differences between the Assembly and the Parliament on the question of church government and Jus Divinum continued to fester.

When the Parliament finally took the subject from the table the following year, early in 1645, they passed certain ordinances which were bound to offend the Assembly. The most objectionable ordinance withheld from the church's office-bearers the basic power of censure or suspension of church members - except for a few specified scandalous offenses. Parliament also specified a civil committee of lay commissioners for each county to whom spiritual causes could be appealed from the church courts. Further, the ordinances even allowed for an appeal from the proposed National Church Assembly to Parliament itself.

The threats of the Parliament were not altogether unexpected. The week before the petition went to the Parliament, Scottish Commissioner Robert Baillie wrote to David Dickson,

"None in the Assembly has any doubt of this truth [i.e., that Christ has appointed an ecclesiastical government in his church distinct from the civil government - R.B.] but one Mr. Coleman, a professed Erastian; a man reasonably learned, but stupid and inconsiderate, half a peasant, and of small estimation. But the lawyers in the Parliament, making it their work to spoil our Presbytery, not so much on conscience, as upon fear that the Presbytery spoil their mercat [an obsolete form of the word "market" - R.B.], and take up most of the country-pleas without law, did blow up the poor man with much vanity; so he is become their champion, to bring out, in the best way he can, Erastus's arguments against the proposition, for the contentment of the Parliament. We give him a free and fair hearing; albeit we fear when we have answered all he can bring, and have confirmed with undeniable proofs our position, the Houses, when it comes to them, shall scrape it out of the Confession; for this point is their idol." 6

The next day, Coleman was absent from the Assembly7 and on Thursday March 19 it was ordered that Messrs. Strickland and Valentine would visit Mr. Coleman since it had been learned that Coleman was not well. 8 On March 30, the Minutes record, "The Assembly was invited to Mr. Coleman his funeral." 9

Always one to say what was on his mind, Baillie recorded in his journal for April 3, 1646, "God has stricken Coleman with death; he fell in an ague, and after four or five days expired. It's not good to stand in Christ's way." 10 The same day John Lightfoot (later Bishop) took up Coleman's place as the chief proponent in the Assembly of the Erastian system. 11

The House of Commons, upon receiving the petition, voted by the margin of eighty-eight to seventy-six to regard the petition as a breach of privilege, which in turn exposed the members of the Assembly to the penalty of the previously mentioned praemunire. The offending paragraph in the Assembly's petition seems to have been:

"Should things be so ordered (which God forbid), that any wicked and scandalous persons might without control thrust themselves upon this sacrament, we do evidently foresee, that not only we, but many of our godly brethren, must be put on this hard choice, either to forsake our stations in the ministry, which would be to us one of the greatest afflictions, or else to partake in other men's sins, and thereby incur the danger of their plagues; and if we must choose one, we are resolved, and we trust our God will help us, to choose affliction rather than iniquity. 12

Parliament claimed on April 21, 1646 in response to the Assembly's petition that the Parliament "hath jurisdiction in all causes, spiritual and temporal;" that its directions were binding on "all persons of this kingdom of what quality soever;" and the divines of the Assembly were reminded that they were strictly an advisory council. Parliament further explicitly prohibited the Assembly from delivering its advice on "matters already judged and determined" by Parliament. Nor was the Assembly to "debate or vote whether what is passed as a law by both Houses be agreeing or disagree to the Word of God, until they be thereunto required." 13

The above summarized response by Parliament to the Assembly's petition came back to the Assembly on April 30, carried by Sir John Evelyn, Mr. Nathaniel Fiennes, and Mr. Samuel Brown, members of Parliament. In Mr. Brown's speech he explained Parliament's position:

* The Parliament has the privilege to be the supreme judicatory in the kingdom and, as such, has jurisdiction in all cases and causes whether spiritual or temporal.

* The Assembly of divines, which was a creature of Parliament, was not authorized to interpret the Solemn League and Covenant, 14 especially in relation to any laws that Parliament made or should make.

* But the Assembly's petition, first, opposed their judgment without being authorized as an assembly to do so to a law passed by both Houses of Parliament, claiming that the law was so contrary to the Covenant that they could not practice it and second, that opposition to a court instituted by the Parliament (viz. the lay commissioners) is a breach of the privilege of Parliament. 15

Along with the charge of breach of privilege, the messengers brought nine questions. Those questions, or queries, went far beyond the actual question in dispute and, in effect, broadened the whole scope of the discussion of church government in the Assembly. The manner in which Parliament stated its questions is also instructive. For those questions having to do with church government, Parliament asked for positive enactment from Scripture. On the other hand, Parliament assumed itself to have whatever authority it gave itself in the church except where the divines could find specific scriptural prohibition to the magistrate. 16

These nine broad questions moved the debate in the Assembly from the relatively narrow question of the jurisdiction of church courts to the much wider question of the divine right and how one determines if a practice is Jus Divinum (by divine right) or merely jus humanum (by human command). The Assembly spent the month of May, 1646 in considering, "How many ways the will and appointment of Jesus Christ is set out in Scripture?" They proceeded to determine on May 5, that his will may be set forth in express words; on May 7, that it may be set forth by necessary consequence; on May 18 they adduced the examples of Christ and the apostles proving truth from the Old Testament only by consequence and not just in express words; on May 28 they adduced some specific examples of necessary consequence; and finally on June 1 they adduced five more examples, one of which was the proof of the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath. 17

Though the Assembly never actually answered the queries in a formal document, some considerable time was invested in them. Baillie explained, "The work of the Assembly these bygone weeks has been to answer some very captious questions of the Parliament, about the clear scriptural warrant for all the punctilios of the government. It was thought it would be impossible for us to answer, and that in our answers there would be no unanimity; yet, by God's grace, we shall deceive them who were waiting for our halting." 18

The anti-Erastian sentiment pervaded not only the Westminster Assembly generally, but was also a significant point of contention from the Scottish delegation and the most Reformed ministers in London. On July 30, 1646 the Scottish delegate George Gillespie dedicated his landmark anti-Erastian book, Aaron's Rod Blossoming to the Westminster Assembly. 19 A scant four months later the first edition of the anti-Erastian Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici made its way from the London Provincial Assembly. 20

Although the Westminster Assembly itself was not finally required by Parliament to submit answers to what Baillie called the nine "very captious questions," the book Jus Divinum is an express and direct answer to the Parliament's questions. 21 The London Provincial Assembly followed the nine questions in order and gave distinct replies point by point to the Parliament. Further Jus Divinum confirmed each of the London Provincial Assembly's answers by appeal both to Scripture and the most able Reformed authors. 22

In a sense the Erastian debate reached its climax in the confrontation between the Parliament and the Assembly over this power of exclusion of certain persons from the table of the Lord. The confrontation began March 20, 1645/46, when Parliament set up its elaborate scheme of "Erastian Presbyterianism." The Assembly believed itself bound by conscience to protest strongly such blatant invasions of the spiritual independence and self-governance of the church. The Assembly therefore petitioned Parliament in a carefully worded and ably reasoned document 23 to reconsider its actions. Parliament regarded the Assembly's petition as a threat of disobedience to the new enactment. The next day in a sermon to the House of Commons, Francis Cheynell, a member of the Westminster Assembly who would later become president of St. John's College, Oxford, reminded the Parliament, "Jesus Christ hath not entrusted any state to make new institutions or create new officers in his church." 24

The difficulty of barring "the scandalous" from the table was only one of many concerns the London Provincial Assembly had with the Erastian settlement of the English Church. Between 1647 and 1660 a total of 190 ministers' names appeared upon the roll of the London Provincial Assembly, yet they seemed to have considerable difficulty actually operating as a free court of Christ's church. The LPA consequently proposed five solutions which they believed would ameliorate the difficulties and strengthen the church. These included:

* increasing the member of delegates, including ruling elders, that each classis could send to the Provincial Assembly

* assisting in the settlement of unorganized classis and the establishment of new classes in and around the city of London

* enforcing of the existing laws regarding the collection and disbursement of tithes

* establishing a uniformity of practice and worship among the numerous parishes within their Province

* getting and maintaining a free hand for the church officers to bar the scandalous from the sacrament of the Lord's supper

In order better to establish the fifth solution, the London Provincial Assembly called upon its several classes to take charge of admitting would-be communicants to the supper by (1) requiring that all of "competent age" should be required to "give an account of their faith before the parochial Presbytery" before coming to the Lord's Supper; (2) public catechizing of all covenant children ages nine and ten; and (3) requiring parents to instruct their children in the home.25

Though Parliament did not press the threatened praemunire (at least partly due to the closeness of the original vote, to be sure), yet the relations between Parliament and the Assembly had been strained such that they were never subsequently the same. Once it was too late, Parliament passed ordinances for setting up a National Presbyterian Establishment. But at the same time Oliver Cromwell was building up the New Model Army on a footing quite different from that originally ordered by the Parliament.

Cromwell and his New Model Army overthrew Parliament in December 1648 via Colonel Pride's purge of the Parliament. When the members of Parliament arrived at the House of Commons on December 5, forty-one leading Presbyterians in the House were arrested and many others were refused entrance. The resistance of the House was not overcome, however. On December 7, forty more members were taken prisoner - which left the fanatics in charge of the Parliament.

At that point the House voted 50 to 28 to take into consideration the proposals of the army. The army then ordered the Parliament to dissolve itself and to confer with General Cromwell for the discharge from jail of the members of Parliament.i

With Colonel Pride's march on London and the purge of the Presbyterians in Parliament in 1648, it mattered little what advice the Westminster Assembly or the London Provincial Assembly gave Parliament. Cromwell and his army accomplished with sword and horse the overthrow of reason and Scripture. It was left to Scotland to establish a Jus Divinum church government. In a few years the Lord Protector Cromwell would be in Scotland, working against the established presbyterianism of the Church of Scotland.

The republication of Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici declares once again the independence of Christ's church from the meddling of civil government. It is a welcome addition to the library of anyone who takes seriously the Presbyterian claim that Christ alone is king and head of his church and has placed in her a government of his own choosing and not of man's choosing.



1 PCA Consensus: A Proposed Statement of Identity for the Presbyterian Church in America. This reviewer's comments regarding the chapter on church polity in that document are contained in a collection of essays by various authors entitled Answers to PCA Consensus.

2 Jus Divinum is a Latin term which basically translates to "divine right."

3 An Answer to a Book entitled "An Humble Remonstrance," in which the Parity of Bishops and Presbyters in Scripture is demonstrated, the occasion of their Imparity in Antiquity discovered, the Disparity of the ancient and our modern Bishops manifested, the Antiquity of Ruling Elders in the Church vindicated, and the Prelatical Church bounded. 1641, by SMECTYMNUUS. SMECTYMNUUS was an earlier work proposing a Presbyterian polity for the English church. The strange name came from the initials of its authors: EC was Edmund Calamy and UUS was for William Spurstowe. The other three authors were Stephen Marshall, Thomas Young, and Matthew Newcomen. The authors also published a defense of their book: A Vindication of the Answer to the Humble Remonstrance from the unjust imputations of frivolousness and falsehood, wherein the cause of Liturgy and Episcopacy is further debated. 1641.

4 Shaw, William A. A History of the English Church During the Civil Wars and Under the Commonwealth, 1640-1660. (2 vols.). New York and Bombay: Longmans, Green & Company, 1900. vol. II, pp. 399-405.

5 A praemunire in English law is basically a charge of resorting to a foreign court or authority and thus disregarding the authority or the supremacy of the sovereign ( in this case the Parliament.) The "foreign court" was, of course, ecclesiastical government.

6 Robert Baillie. The Letters and Journals of Robert Baillie (Edinburgh: Bannatyne Club, 1841-42), vol. II, 360-61. (Spelling and punctuation have been updated to reflect modern usage.).

7 Minutes, 207.

8 Ibid. 213.

9 Ibid.

10 Baillie, II, 364.

11 Minutes, 213, 439-42.

12 Cited in Mitchel, Westminster Assembly, 297-300.

13 Cited in S. W. Carruthers. The Everyday Work of the Westminster Assembly (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society, 1943), 13-14.

14 The Solemn League and Covenant was the political and ecclesiastical treaty between Parliament and Scotland which brought the Scots into the civil war on the side of the Parliament and required Parliament to establish Presbyterianism in England.

15 Minutes, pp. 453-58.

16 The nine queries can be found in Minutes, pp. 225-26.

17 Carruthers, 15-17.

18 Baillie, II, 378.

19 Minutes, 261.

20 The editor of the present edition follows others such as Robert S. Paul in attributing the work to the divines of Sion College. However, it should be noted that while the London Provincial Assembly met at Sion College, it was not strictly speaking a part of the College, but of the synod being erected by the Parliament. Philip J. Anderson in his article "Sion College and the London Provincial Assembly, 1647-1660" in Journal of Ecclesiastical History 37(1) January 1986, p. 70 noted that Cornelius Burges distinguished between Sion College which consisted of all London Ministers and the London Provincial Assembly which consisted of those teaching and ruling elders who had specifically undergone presbyterial exam. Further, we note that the title page of the 1654 edition of Jus Divinum specifically mentions the London Provincial Assembly as the source of Jus Divinum and with Anderson that the Assembly tirelessly argued for a free hand in barring the scandalous from the sacrament of the Lord's Supper (Anderson -p. 77.).

21 It should be noted, however, that in the final analysis Parliament struck Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 30, which contains the offending statement, "The Lord Jesus, as king and head of his church, hath therein appointed a government in the hands of the church-officers, distinct from the civil magistrate." When the Church of Scotland adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith in 1647, it adopted Chapter 30 in toto.

22 Hetherington, 269-70.

23 For the text of the petition see Alexander Mitchell, The Westminster Assembly: Its History and Standards (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1897), 297.

24 Francis Cheynell, "A Plot for the Good of Posterity," cited in Carruthers, 12.

25 London Provincial Assembly, Minutes, folio 131. i Journal of the House of Commons, VI, 94, cited in S. R. Gardiner History of the Great Civil War, (London: Longmans, Green, 1893), IV, 270.

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