Published articles, lectures, chapters






ed. Stephen Clark (Leicester: IVP, 2005), pp.83-151       




1. Unpublished section on armed resistance


2. Extracts from the chapter as published



What claim has this ‘Christendom’ … upon our interest now?  … Its claim on us is simply that of witness. It attests, as a matter of history, the actual impact of the Christian faith on European politics, and it expounds this impact in its developed political reflections. Those who ruled in Christendom and those who thought and argued about government believed that the Gospel was true. They intended their institutions to reflect Christ’s coming reign. We can criticise their understanding of the Gospel; we can criticise their applications of it; but we can no more be uninterested in their witness than an astronomer can be uninterested in what people see through telescopes. And while no testimony to Christ can safely be ignored, this one lays claim with a special seriousness; for although it is no longer our tradition, we are its dénouement, or perhaps its débâcle. It was the womb in which our late-modernity came to birth. Even our refusal of Christendom has been learned from Christendom. Its insights and errors have fashioned, sometimes by repetition and sometimes by reaction, the insights and errors which comprise the platitudes of our own era.

Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations, p. 194





Samuel Rutherford wrote of himself, “I am made of extremes” and few who are acquainted with his writings would deny it.[1] Author both of the spiritually intense Letters and of densely argued Latin works of Reformed scholasticism,[2] he was, in Taylor Innes’s oft-cited phrase, “St Thomas and St Francis under one hood”. He lived from 1600 to 1661, an incurable activist in ecclesiastical politics, an acute scholar in the higher reaches of Reformed theology, and an intense seeker of intimacy with his “lovely Jesus, fair Jesus, King Jesus”.[3]  Loved and hated with equal vehemence in his own day, he has been familiar to later generations chiefly through two of his ‘extreme’ works, the spiritually passionate Letters which were not published until after he had died, and the politically radical Lex, rex which could easily have had him executed in 1661 if he had not died first.


One inescapable aspect of a consideration of Saints and Society is that of the role of the civil government and although it might be argued that Rutherford was not an original thinker in this area, his status as a widely-known and outspoken representative of one particular strand of Christian political thought suggests that he might make an interesting case study. What follows, therefore, is an attempt to summarize Rutherford’s thinking about civil government as presented in his 1644 work, Lex, rex. With the exception of the relevant chapter in John Coffey’s superb book, Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions: The Mind of Samuel Rutherford,[4] such summaries as are available tend to concentrate upon the polemical purpose of the book, namely, the theological defence of armed resistance to the tyrant. What distinguishes what follows from Coffey’s work, (apart from vastly less knowledge of Rutherford!) is my endeavour to present Rutherford’s thinking, so far as is possible, in his own words, as well as the deliberate organization of the summary around Aristotle’s four causes, to which Rutherford refers in the opening sentence of the book.


There are several interesting and valuable things, then, that this chapter is not. It is not a study of Rutherford’s political theory in relation either to the rest of his thought or to other Christian political theory. It is not an attempt to identify Rutherford’s dependence upon others nor an explanation of the ways in which his thought is distinctive.[5] It is not, sadly, a piece of constructive Christian political theology[6] produced in conversation with Rutherford and others, nor even a critical evaluation of Lex, rex.[7] It is, quite simply, a layman’s look at Lex, rex, a book of which many have heard but which few have read and yet a book which richly repays close and multiple readings.[8]



Lex, rex: The Law and the Prince


Rutherford’s work first appeared in October 1644.  At the time Rutherford was one of the Scottish Commissioners at the Westminster Assembly and much occupied with what he saw as the antinomian threat of the sectaries, the necessity of establishing divine right presbyterianism, and the ongoing priority of affectionate practical divinity.[9] The book’s full title was:


Lex, rex:  The Law and the Prince.  A Dispute for the just Prerogative of King and People. Containing the Reasons and Causes of the most necessary Defensive Wars of the Kingdom of Scotland, and of their Expedition for the ayd and help of their dear Brethren of England. In which their Innocency is asserted, and a full Answer is given to a Seditious Pamphlet, Intituled, Sacro-sancta Regum Majestas, The Sacred and Royall Prerogative of Christian Kings; Under the Name of J. A. But penned by Jo: Maxwell the Excommunicate P.Prelat. With a Scripturall Confutation of the ruinous Grounds of W. Barclay, H. Grotius, H. Arnisæus, Ant. de Domi. popish Bishop of Spalato, and of other late Anti-Magistratical Royalists; as, The Author of Ossorianum, D. Ferne, E. Symmons, the Doctors of Aberdeen, etc.[10]


This, then, was a defence of the Scots’ military action against Charles, both in the so-called Bishops’ Wars of 1639-40, and from 1643 onwards in support of the parliamentary side in the English Civil War. John Maxwell, Bishop of Ross until the Glasgow assembly of December 1638 excommunicated him, and subsequently chaplain to Charles I, had written a Royalist defence of the king’s actions, emphasizing “The Sacred and Royal Prerogative of Christian Kings”. Rutherford’s reply was published with the outcome of the War still very much in the balance: the Parliamentary forces had scored a notable victory at Marston Moor in July but Montrose had won well for the king at Tippermuir and Aberdeen in September while later in October the second battle of Newbury proved to be yet another indecisive engagement. Rutherford’s title also spoke of prerogative but, in deliberate contrast to Maxwell, this was the “just prerogative of King and People”.


The argument of the book is laid out in answers to forty-four questions. Coffey’s summary of the main focus of the questions is helpful:


Questions I to XIV dealt with the origins of government, and Questions XV to XXI with the relation between king and people, especially the institutions of parliament and the judiciary. The heart of the book is found in the answers to Questions XXII to XXVII, where Rutherford discussed the relationship between the king and the law, placing rex firmly under lex. Then in Questions XXVIII to XXVII he defended the defensive wars of the Scots, and in Questions XXXVIII to XLIV he concluded by discussing a miscellaneous range of issues such as how his theory related to that of the Jesuits and how it fitted with the history of Scotland.[11]


Lex, rex is a curious book which approaches its subject from various angles. Close exegesis of particular biblical passages and phrases, with reference to numerous commentators, lies hard up against interaction with Jesuitical political thought, while constant appeal to natural law sits alongside detailed accounts of Scottish history and reference to a range of Reformed confessions. Rutherford applies rigorous logic to Maxwell’s arguments, frequently taking him to task for his loose thinking and then a few pages later engages in something between preaching and demagoguery, comparing the king with Nero and lamenting on behalf of the poor oppressed people of Scotland. The book is repetitious and at times it almost rambles through its 470 quarto pages.[12] Rutherford’s contempt for Maxwell is stinging[13] and for those not familiar with the range of Rutherford’s work, it is hard to believe that this could come from the same hand that penned the famous Letters.


What is clear, however, is that the book hit the mark. Coffey writes:


According to the Scottish moderate, Henry Guthry, every member of the 1645 General Assembly ‘had in his hand that Book lately published by Mr Samuel Rutherford … [which was] so idolised that whereas Buchanan’s treatise De Jure Regni apud Scotos, was looked upon as an oracle, this coming forth, it was slighted (as not anti-monarchical enough) and Rutherford’s Lex, rex only thought authentic’.[14]


And, as is well known, in September 1660, not long after the restoration of Charles II, copies of Lex, rex were burned in Edinburgh and outside New College in St Andrews. Rutherford himself was due to face charges of treason but died in March 1661 before he could do so reputedly saying, “I have a summons already from a superior Judge and adjudicator, and  I behove to answer my first summons, and ere your day arrives, I shall be where few kings and great folk come”.



Lex, rex and Aristotle’s “Four Causes”


The first sentence of Lex, rex outlines the subject matter of the book and sets our agenda. Rutherford simply states:


I reduce all that I am to speak of the power of kings, to the author or efficient, - the matter or subject, - the form or power, - the end and fruit of their government, - and to some cases of resistance.[15] 


Rutherford is working with the four aijtiai of Aristotle, often referred to as the four causes:  the efficient cause, the material cause, the formal cause and the final cause. In his “cases of resistance” he discusses the grounds, occasions, and manner of restraining, restricting or withdrawing the king’s power and this discussion flows from what he has said about the four causes.


If we reorder the causes (to final, efficient, formal and material), rephrase them as questions, and take “cases of resistance” to be “forms of limitation”, then we approach Rutherford’s 1644 work with these questions: What is the purpose or goal of government? Who or what brings government into being? What is it that makes government government, or what is the essence of government? What is government made out of? Each carries with it the implied further question, what are the due limitations of civil government?



What is the Purpose or Goal of Civil Government?  (The Final Cause)


God, as a good creator, intends the well-being of his creatures and so programmes human beings with a natural inclination to their own good and a natural instinct for their own self-preservation.  Further, he grants them both the power of self-preservation and the duty of self-defence. Rutherford writes, “all living creatures have radically in them a power of self-preservation, to defend themselves from violence”.[16] 


This duty of self-preservation, which, from a good Creator’s hand, amounts to a duty to seek the good and to be happy, is binding and thus the right of self-defence is inalienable. Human beings do not have the power to destroy themselves and they “can no more resign power of self-defence, which nature hath given them, than they can be guilty of self-murder”.[17]  Just as no-one has power to murder another or let another be murdered but rather has the duty to prevent murder, so no-one has the power to murder himself or let himself be murdered but rather has the duty to prevent harm to himself.[18]



Government is about self-preservation


Government, at its most basic, may be considered as the exercise of power for a person’s self-preservation and well-being and, therefore, is natural. Self-government is the first form of government - one’s own exercise of power to defend against evil and to secure the good.  Equally naturally, the second form of government is domestic government in which the father, by virtue of being a father, has the power and the duty of defending his family members and seeking their well-being.


Beyond self-government and domestic government, however, a third form emerges. Although the duty of self-preservation is inescapable and although the right of self-defence is inalienable, a person or group of people may delegate their power in order better to secure their well-being. This delegation of the power of self-preservation is the basis of civil government. God intends for men to live peaceably and so, “…supposing that men be combined in societies … it is natural that they join in a civil society”.[19] In fact, a community’s failure to “set … rulers over themselves” would be, “a breach of the fifth commandment”.[20]  In particular, the entrance of sin makes civil government a necessity and without “kings and other judges … all human societies should be dissolved”.[21]


Rutherford believes that without humanity’s fall into sin there would have been no civil government.[22] Under sin, however, human beings are marked by irrational and lawless selfishness and, for this reason, there is a need for an effective agency able to prevent one person from harming others, an agency which is stronger than any single person alone.[23]  And this agency, civil government, formed with the purpose of preventing evil and with the community’s delegated power of self-preservation is a blessing from God. Rutherford reminds us that, “not to be under governors and magistrates is a judgment of God, (Isa. 3:6-7; 3:1; Hos. 3:4; Judg.19:1-2)”[24] stating that:


A community of itself, because of sin, is a naked society that can but destroy itself, and every one eat the flesh of his brother; therefore God hath appointed a king or governor, who shall take care of that community, rule them in peace, and save all from reciprocation of mutual acts of violence.[25]



The supreme law


Repeatedly and emphatically, Rutherford asserts that the health or safety of the people is the supreme law for civil government: “salus populi, suprema lex. The safety of the people is the supreme and cardinal law to which all laws are to stoop”.[26]  And this is worked out and illustrated in several ways. Good rulers, such as Moses and David were, are those who are willing to suffer themselves in order to secure the safety of the people.[27] The power and use of royal prerogative is measured by its potential for furthering the welfare of the people.[28] All laws are to be understood and evaluated in the light of the supreme law: “The law hath one fundamental rule, salus populi, like the king of planets, the sun, which lendeth star-light to all laws, and by which they are exponed”.[29] 


And if laws, then certainly rulers are to be judged by the same criterion:


The genuine and intrinsical end of a king is the good, (Rom. 13:4) and the good of a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty (1. Tim. 2:2) … [his] genuine end is to preserve the law from violence, and to defend the subject; — he is the people’s debtor for all happiness possible to be procured by God’s sword, either in peace or war, at home or abroad.[30]



Civil rulers as servants


The logic of this may have sounded somewhat demeaning to Royalist ears but Rutherford did not shy away from it. Put simply, the civil government, and more specifically the king, is a means to an end. Far from possessing any sort of absolute power, the monarch is – in just these terms – relativized:


The king, as king, hath all his official and relative goodness in the world, as relative to the end. All that you can imagine to be in a king, as a king, is all relative to the safety and good of the people, (Rom. 13:4) "He is a minister for thy good”. He should not, as king, make himself, or his own gain and honour, his end.[31]


The king, as a king, is formally and essentially the "minister of God for our good," (Rom. 13:4; 1 Tim. 2:2) and cannot come under any notion as a king, but as a mean, not as an end, nor as that which he is, to seek himself ... And God’s end in giving a king is the good and safety of his people.[32]


Phrased differently, the personal means is a servant and Rutherford uses this language too: “He is the commonwealth’s servant objectively, because all the king’s service, as he is king, is for the good, safety, peace and salvation of the people, and in this he is a servant”.[33]



Freedom and the “health of the people”


This, of course, invites the question as to what constitutes the “good, safety, peace and salvation of the people” and Rutherford answers in several ways.  First, he asserts the natural dignity, freedom and equality of all human beings in striking tones. Human equality and liberty consists in the fact that, considered simply as humans, no-one is born under civil subjection to another: “subjection politic is merely accidental”.[34] There is a natural subjection but it is domestic, within the family.[35] There are not separate natural classes of humans, rulers and ruled. Rather, “liberty is a condition of nature that all men are born with”.[36] 


A man being created according to God’s image, he is res sacra, a sacred thing, and can no more, by nature’s law, be sold and bought, than a religious and sacred thing dedicated to God. … Every man by nature is a freeman born, that is, by nature no man cometh out of the womb under any civil subjection to king, prince, or judge, to master, captain, conqueror, teacher, &c.[37]


In fact, civil or political subjection is characteristic only of a fallen world and is “a penal fruit of sin, and against nature … because all men are born by nature of equal condition”.[38] One aspect of the good and safety of the people is the maintenance of these freedoms and when the actions of the civil government either allow or themselves bring about unnatural and unjust subjection then those actions are contrary to the God-given end of government.


A second aspect of the good and safety of the people relates to this. A person’s freedom and well-being are defined by the law of God and are violated when another human being breaks that law as it bears upon the relationship between them. God’s law prohibits theft and thus not-to-be-stolen-from is part of human freedom and well-being. The restraint and punishment of thieves is the promotion of human good and safety and is therefore a key component of the community’s delegated power of self-preservation which is the basis of civil government.[39] 



A pure and protected church and the health of the people


Clearly, then, the salus populi will include freedom from theft, rape, murder and the like. But the first commandment is to worship the true God and the next three commandments require that he be worshipped truly. In this, supremely, the people’s good and safety consists. And since the church is the promoter and guardian of the true worship of the true God, the civil government’s relationship with the church will be an important aspect of its faithfulness or unfaithfulness in discharging its God-given responsibility of seeking the health and peace of the people.


The boundaries of responsibility between church and civil government are not given much attention in Lex, rex, although this was a question to which Rutherford devoted a great deal of thought. Minimally, however, Rutherford believes that the civil government should, in some ways, protect and nurture the church. It should recognize the limits of its jurisdiction and not compromise the “crown rights of King Jesus” in the government and ordering of the life of the church. And it should not interfere with the church; and should never allow, far less encourage, far less require the church to depart from the true worship of the true God:


A king is a special gift from God, given to feed and defend the people of God, that they may lead a godly and peaceable life under him, (Psal. 78:71-2; 1 Tim. 2:2).[40]


Since the health of the people is most bound up with pure worship, then the most intense, indeed, the archetypal failure of civil government would be to require the church to institute false worship. Only one thing worse could be imagined: the attempt to impose false worship by force:


He is made by God and the people king, for the church and people of God’s sake, that he may defend true religion for the behalf and salvation of all. If therefore he defend not religion for the salvation of the souls of all in his public and royal way, it is presumed as undeniable that the people of God, who by the law of nature are to care for their own souls, are to defend in their way true religion, which so nearly concerneth them and their eternal happiness.[41]


This, of course, is exactly what Rutherford and others understood Charles to have been doing from 1633 onwards. Their interpretation of the heinousness of surplice-wearing or of the imposed Prayer-Book may be disputed but the line of argument from there is irresistible. Civil government is the community’s delegated power of self-preservation and thus has the good and safety of the people as its supreme law. The good and safety of the people was to be secured by preserving their liberty and natural equality and by restraining and punishing the evil-doer; but, above all, it was secured by protecting and supporting the church in her calling to promote the true worship of the true God. If a civil government – against the liberty and natural equality of the people – imposed what was diametrically opposite to that people’s good and safety, peace and salvation, then that civil government had altogether missed the end of government.



The health of the people a touchstone for questions of government


Rutherford’s views upon the three main forms of government will be described later but here it should be noted that the end of government, securing the good and safety of the people, also forms a criterion in selecting one rather than another form of government at any particular time:


If a nation seeth that aristocratical government is better than monarchy, hic et nunc, that the sequels of such a monarchy is bloody, destructive, tyrannous; that the monarchy compelleth the free subjects to Mahomedanism, to gross idolatry, they cannot, by the divine bond of any oath, captive their natural freedom, which is to choose a government and governors for their safety, and for a peaceable and godly life.[42]


Again, in considering the role of the lesser magistrates, the key consideration will be the degree to which their presence or absence, effectiveness or ineffectiveness secures the end of government:


These judges cannot but be univocally and essentially judges no less than the king, without which in a kingdom justice is physically impossible; and anarchy, and violence, and confusion, must follow, if they be wanting in the kingdom. But without inferior judges, though there be a king, justice is physically impossible; and anarchy and confusion, &c. must follow.[43]


It is no surprise, in view of the importance which Rutherford places upon the reasons for which government exists, that when he comes to define tyranny he does so less by reference to the way in which power is attained or maintained or to the demeanour of the ruler but by reference to the end of government. A tyrant is one who uses power for purposes other than those which God has assigned; a tyrant is defined not by how much power he has or uses but by the purposes to which he puts his power:


Tyranny being a work of Satan, is not from God, because sin, either habitual or actual, is not from God: the power that is, must be from God; the magistrate, as magistrate, is good in nature of office, and the intrinsic end of his office, (Rom. 13:4) for he is the minister of God for thy good; and, therefore, a power ethical, politic, or moral, to oppress, is not from God, and is not a power, but a licentious deviation of a power; and is no more from God, but from sinful nature and the old serpent, than a license to sin.[44]


Simply, there is “power to be a father” and “power to be a tyrant”. The one is “power to fight for the people” and the other “power to waste and destroy them”.[45]  At every turn Rutherford applies the test of the end of government, the good and safety of the people.


And, as suggested above, he has no doubt that Charles has badly failed the test. The charges are repeatedly brought that the king has tried to “press … upon the people a false and idolatrous religion”.[46]  The “idolatry of bread-worship and popery” which was being imposed was “as hateful to God as dagon-worship”[47] and “the Service Book commanded, in the king’s absolute authority, all Scotland to commit grosser idolatry, in the intention of the work, if not in the intention of the commander, than was in Babylon”.[48]  But what was “hateful to God” and “grosser idolatry than was in Babylon” must necessarily be dangerous to the people and entirely opposite to their peace and salvation. Thus, for the civil government to impose and command these things was to act contrary to the end of government. And this, as much as arbitrary or absolute powers, was what rendered that government a tyranny.


In response to the objection that these were merely matters of interpretation, Rutherford denies that “tyranny can be obscure long” but, deliberately choosing the number thought to comprise the king’s army against Scotland in 1639-40, makes the point that, “if a king bring in upon his native subjects twenty thousand Turks armed, and the king lead them, it is evident they come not to make a friendly visit to salute the kingdom, and depart in peace”.[49]



The health of the people as warrant for removing a government


One step remains. The end of government is the good and safety of the people. The form of government, the assessment of rulers, the civil government’s relationship with the church and the definition of tyranny are all to be judged in relation to this. The final step is the recognition that if the community’s delegation of the exercise of power for self-preservation is defined by and limited to the safeguarding of the community’s health and peace, then it is understood to be a conditional grant and one which may be withdrawn if the civil government does not meet the conditions of the grant.


This flows naturally from the inalienability of the duty and right of self-defence. If I transfer my power of self-defence to an agency and that agency then exercises power against me then since my transfer of power did not and could not involve the alienation of the (inalienable) duty of self-defence but merely the temporary and conditional delegation of executive power, I must resist that agency and, so far as I am able, reverse the grant of power. Rutherford is clear that “they transfer their power to the father [i.e. the king], for their own safety and peace, (not if he use the power they give aim to their destruction)”.[50]  The people are able to recognize when they are “in an extraordinary exigent” such as “when Ahab and Jezebel did undo the church of God, and tyrannise over both the bodies and consciences of priest, prophet and people” and in such a case they may, as Rutherford puts it, “resume their power”.[51]


Again and again, Rutherford asserts that the grant of power is conditional and makes it clear that the condition is defined by the end of government, the good and safety, peace and salvation of the people:


If the estates of a kingdom give the power to a king, it is their own power in the fountain; and if they give it for their own good, they have power to judge when it is used against themselves, and for their evil, and so power to limit and resist the power that they gave.[52]


The community … may resume its power, which it gave conditionally to the ruler for its own safety and good; and in so far as this condition is violated, and power turned to the destruction of the commonwealth, it is to be esteemed as not given.[53]


In summary, then, government is the exercise of power for self-preservation. Civil government receives a conditional transfer of such power from the community which does not thereby forfeit its right or escape its duty of self-defence. The end of government is the good of the people and is achieved by preserving their natural liberty and equality, by restraining and punishing the evil-doer and by protecting and supporting the church. Since the people’s highest good is found in the true worship of the true God, the civil government’s most vicious and reprehensible abuse of power would be in hindering such worship or, worse still, imposing false worship. Nothing could be more contrary to the health and safety of the people. In such a case, the people’s duty of self-defence would require – at this point - resistance to the civil government and renunciation of its power.



Who or What Brings Civil Government into Being?   (The Efficient Cause)





What is Government?  What is the Essence of Government?  (The Formal Cause)





What is the Civil Government made out of?  (The Material Cause)






Summary and transition


The civil government, then, according to Rutherford, is brought into being by God and the people. It exists for the well-being, and especially the protection of the people whose highest good is found in the practice of true religion. It is made of the stuff of ordinary, sinful human beings, neither separate from nor superior to those they rule. And the essence of civil government is its embodiment of the law of God which it is to declare legislatively, apply judicially, and enforce executively. The answers to these four questions generate reasons to limit civil government, to keep it under jealous observation and to pray for those given responsibility in it.  Moreover, the answers themselves, as well as Rutherford’s route to them, produce further questions for our consideration: questions for Rutherford from us and for us from Rutherford. It is to a description of those questions that we now turn.



Some Questions for Rutherford


There are many practical questions we would like to ask Rutherford about the relationship between institutions in society, about how precisely the distinctions which he lays down are to be applied, about whether organizing the material in relation to Aristotle’s four causes did not lead inevitably to a certain set of answers, about particular phrases and concepts within Lex, rex, about what we are to do for and in response to persecuting authorities and persecuted brothers and sisters, and about what he, Rutherford, would do if he were with us under judgment, where the marginalized church experiences – and even embraces – cultural impotence and irrelevance. However, the key questions which twenty-first century Christian readers wish to bring to the work cluster around issues of salvation history. Modern readers would wish to question Rutherford along these lines:


Apart from the necessary geographical spread of true religion, in what ways have the cross and resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit shaped – or made a difference to – your political theory?  Lex, rex gives the impression that the principles of civil government are timeless laws rather than historical reflections of and upon God’s saving work in Christ.


Similarly, what eschatological perspectives do you bring to bear upon the nature and function of civil government?  Does Lex, rex reflect the realities of which Joel Garver writes:


Ecclesial order and civil order … do not occupy two different spaces, but two different times: the church having an eternal end, rooted in God’s past saving acts in Christ, made present now in word and sacrament; the civil order having a temporal function within the present saeculum, ordained to continually pass away, though its treasures are carried in the bosom of the church into the eternal kingdom (Rev 21.24).[54]


Another way of asking the same question would be to reflect upon O’Donovan’s determination to “place political history within the history of God’s reign”.[55] Does Lex, rex do this?


There is an ecclesiological angle on this too. How does your view of the church shape your view of the state and how does your view of the state shape your view of the church?  To what extent is Lex, rex simply  presbyterianism in civil affairs? What difference does the fact that the church is a nation, a political entity and the only eschatological social unit make to our understanding of the nation-state, to the possibility that a nation may, as such, be in covenant with God, and to the relationship between the civil authority in a nation and the church in that nation?  Do you follow through the political implications of your declaration that the church is “a free kingdom that oweth spiritual tribute to none on earth, as being the freeborn princess and daughter to the King of kings”.[56]


Aspects of biblical interpretation also arise. Surely, no Christian would disagree with your view, as summarized by John Coffey, that the Old Testament is “the magistrate’s most important textbook”.[57] However, it would be reassuring to have an explanation of the methods by which you draw relevant distinctions about the applicability and conceptual transfer of passages located in one cultural and redemptive-historical moment to situations in a very different cultural and redemptive-historical moment.


Still on the question of authority, some more definite biblical warrant would be welcome for the natural law axiom upon which you lay so very much stress, namely, the duty of the individual human person to seek his own well-being. The way that you combine it with emphatic theocentricity reminds us of Baxter in your day and those who call themselves “Christian hedonists” in ours. Both work as though there was a unqualified command lawfully to defend ourselves and pursue our own good.


Putting these concerns together, we recognize that the political theory of Lex, rex is Christian, in so far as it is built upon the propositions of Christian dogmatics. What is less clear is how far it is evangelical in the sense that it expresses and is shaped by the gospel story which is the shape of history itself. Admittedly, the whole approach only makes sense if orthodox Christian teaching about “God” and “humankind” and “sin” and suchlike are true but does this political theory reflect the newness and the strangeness of the kingdom of God embodied in Jesus the servant and established by his death and resurrection?


It is not hard to imagine that Rutherford would have answers to these questions – and probably very long and detailed answers. In brief, however, a defence of Lex, rex against the charges which these questions imply may proceed by responding positively to Peter Leithart’s questions:


The issue is whether the hope of forming Christian culture in the wider society is inherent to the Church’s mission, or a deviation from the Church’s mission. Should the Christian ekklesia want to remake the earthly city in her image?[58]


The centrality of the church, the universal Lordship of Christ as the beloved of the Father, the civil authority’s accountability not to the church but to Christ himself, the subordination of all human institutions to God’s redemptive purposes are all assumed by Rutherford. It is not that he is behind us in these matters but rather that he is so far ahead that, unless we hurry up, he is about to lap us. He knows full well that:


The church’s one project is to witness to the Kingdom of God. Christendom is response to mission, and as such a sign that God has blessed it. It is constituted not by the church’s seizing alien power, but by alien power’s becoming attentive to the church.[59]


What we are relearning, he assumes. Lessons of Christian politics are lessons of redeemed society; stern words to the powers that be are part of fulfilling the Great Commission, to disciple the nations and teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded.



Some Questions from Rutherford


In his turn, Rutherford presents us with a number of questions, some of which may prove a little embarrassing. He may even enlist Oliver O’Donovan to express some of his interests and concerns!  His first question is, of course, about the five questions which Lex, rex itself sets out to answer:


·            What is the purpose of civil government?

·            What brings it into being? 

·            What is the essence of civil government? 

·            What is the stuff of which it is made? 

·            Under what conditions, if any, may the civil government be resisted? 


Rutherford’s meta-question is simply whether it is possible to have a coherent political theory without an answer to these questions?  But he asks with a purpose because if, as seems likely, we acknowledge the coherence and relevance of these questions for a consideration of civil government then he will want to know our answers to them.


This leads to his second major question to us: how can we pretend that those who differ on these foundational questions of government may still act together as though there is something deeper still which unites them?  This, of course, is the question by which he exposes the myths of neutrality and pluralism alike. The purpose of civil government is to secure the well-being of the people by protecting them and the church so that they may attain their highest good in the knowledge of God in Christ. True or false?  The God who rules all things through his exalted Son brings government into being using the consent of the people as a means. True or false?   What makes government government is its submission to and embodiment of the law of God discovered through study and application of his infallible and sufficient Word, the Bible. True or false?  Government is made of sinful human beings each one of whom is directly accountable in conscience and on judgment day to the one true living God.  True or false?  Rutherford’s answers to the “questions of government” do not appeal to some “shared values or objectives” which try to get behind the supremacy of Jesus Christ. Boldly and explicitly they thus eliminate possibility of neutrality.  As O’Donovan puts it:


                In the Christian era there is no neutral performance on the part of rulers; either they accommodate to the energy of the divine mission, or they hurl themselves into defiance.[60]


Every actual society reaches answers to these questions which it treats as normative, and so makes definite religious judgments about the proper content of religious belief and practice. The false consciousness of the would-be secular society lies in its determination to conceal the religious judgments that it has made.[61]


What follows is obvious – a question for those who seek to affirm the possibility or legitimacy of neutrality or pluralism in civil government. If, Rutherford might ask, one set of answers to the questions above is correct and other sets incorrect, then how, for right-minded people, could the recognition and implementation of the correct answers not be the goal for the future and the critical measure of the present?  In a few short steps Rutherford takes us to the Christendom question. Coffey calls Rutherford a “full-blooded defender of Reformed theocratic ambition”.[62] Rutherford would wish to ask what else he could be while remaining consistent with his answers to the original questions.


Pressing his point, Rutherford might then ask whether, far from there being a tension in his thought between the “Whig constitutionalist” and the “Presbyterian theocrat”, it is not rather the case – in a politically presuppositionalist sort of way – that all that is good and proper in his political theory hangs or falls together. Coffey describes how Lex, rex is experienced as an “ambiguous book” by modern readers:


On the one hand, Rutherford’s arguments for popular sovereignty, the rule of law, and the right of resistance to tyranny, remind us of Locke, and can lead to the impression that the author of Lex, Rex was something of a modern liberal. On the other hand, his desire for a covenanted nation purged of heresy, idolatry and unbelief, makes him appear thoroughly reactionary, utterly committed to the ideals of Christendom.[63]


Rutherford might reply that those features of his thought which are attractive to moderns (the “modern liberal” Rutherford) – its contractarianism, division of powers, checks and balances, emphasis on the rule of law, person-office distinction – cannot be separated from the Reformed systematics and covenantal reading of Scripture (the “thoroughly reactionary” Rutherford) with which they are associated in Lex, rex. This is because they are not merely “associated”. Rather, Rutherford’s affirmation of modern aspects of political thought and practice wholly depends upon its theological underpinning. Unless there is a sovereign, righteous God, unless the Calvinist doctrine of providence is true, unless the church is the bearer of salvation news and Christ is Lord over all human institutions, unless the law of God clearly and authoritatively describes human maturity and social well-being, then what the successors of the “Whig constitutionalist” so appreciate in Lex, rex is lost to them and to the rest of us. This is presuppositionalist by affirming politically what is also true epistemologically and ethically and personally: the only sure foundation for ordered and good thinking and living is the rule and rules of the triune God; where those who deny that rule and those rules nonetheless prosper (think straight, live well, or do politics properly) it is because they are being inconsistent with their denial; sanity and well-being are found and human flourishing experienced best by submissive and dependent acknowledgement of God and by living, thinking and politicking consistently with that.


Taking this further: if, for a few moments, Rutherford could set aside his own refusal of toleration, he might even ask modern Christians who are so keen on toleration for an explanation of how they think that pluralism can provide a basis for it. Imagine that the constitution sets out the principles by which a society determines what is to be tolerated and what to be criminalized, that is, what should be placed on the statute book. A full pluralist constitution will say something like “everyone is right and no-one is right and none of us can ever know for sure.” This makes any toleration which is offered “out there” in the public square or on the statute-book either arbitrary or unfounded. In contrast – and somewhat ironically - a commitment at the level of the constitution to the recognition of the authority of Christ provides solid grounds for extending toleration exactly as far as he commands. The constitution will read, “Jesus Christ is Kings of Kings and we are to do what he says”. The statute-book can then say with a proper basis in the constitution, “The King says that behaviours X and Y are to be tolerated (with respect to sanctions from the magistrate)  and that behaviours A and B are to be punished.”  And, depending on answers to a multitude of exegetical questions, it is a distinct possibility that X and Y will include “belief in a false god”. Toleration has a foundation in a “Christendomite” constitution which it does not have in a pluralist constitution. This, too, demonstrates that those wishing for “Whig constitutionalist” benefits such as toleration need the “Reformed theocrat” Christendom ideal (the “professedly Christian civil order”) to underpin such benefits.


This means, of course, that Rutherford is not a modern political theorist if Skinner’s two tests of individualism and secularism are applied. Quite the opposite: being a Presbyterian, he has a covenantal understanding of social structures not an individualistic one, and being a theocrat, he has an inescapably and pervasively religious view of what constitutes a well-ordered society.  His question to us, then, is “how do you propose to establish the good things of “Whig constitutionalism” without their necessary underpinnings in “Reformed theocracy”?


Rutherford’s remaining questions to us flow from this. If you acknowledge that the good news of which the church is the bearer and the right worship of God for which the church is the proper setting are themselves essential to the well-being of a people and also recognize that the civil government has been established by God in order to further (some aspects of) the well-being of a people, then is it not inevitable that the civil government’s attitude to the church will be different from the civil government’s attitude to groups and institutions which bear a message or promote practices which are highly destructive of human welfare?  On some – but by no means all – issues, Rutherford would be quoting Oliver O’Donovan at us. And certainly here:


If the mission of the church needs a certain social space, for men and women of every nation to be drawn into the governed community of God’s Kingdom, then secular authority is authorised to provide and ensure that space …the goals and conduct of secular government are to be reconceived to serve the needs of international mobility and contact which the advancement of the Gospel requires.[64]


Again, since the instruments and powers of the highest well-being of a community rest with the church rather than with the civil government, how have you allowed political discourse to proceed on the assumption that the civil government itself is the provider, promoter and protector of the highest goods?  O’Donovan again:


When believers find themselves confronted with an order that, implicitly or explicitly, offers itself as the sufficient and necessary condition of human welfare, they will recognise the beast. When a political structure makes this claim, we call it ‘totalitarian’.[65]


Rutherford’s repeated use of Nero as an example of absolutism and tyranny are abundant testimony to his agreement with this perspective. Further questions he might ask us relate to this: how is it that a servant who was employed in order to provide social space for real good to be done by others has been allowed to become the master of the house making none too subtle claims to be the Lord and Saviour of all on the estate and requiring that the goods of the estate be put to his service? How did you get to the position where other institutions are understood as subordinate to and at the service of the civil government?  Why are all other strata in the hierarchy of civil government understood to come under the jurisdiction of the executive?  How did you get to the position where – to use the words of one of your politicians - there is no such thing as society, only the state and the agencies of the state?


Rutherford’s questions to conservative evangelicals are easily guessed.  At what point and for what reason did you abandon the theological sub-discipline of Reformed political thought?   If the “Christendom project” could be distilled, illustratively, to writing “Jesus Christ is ruler of the kings of the earth” as the first line of the constitution and over the doors of parliament then at what point in the argument do you depart from such a project?  Is Jesus Christ the ruler of the kings of the earth?  Is it desirable that the kings of the earth should acknowledge this?  Is it desirable that the kings of the earth qua kings should publicly confess this?  Since you wish for Christ to have first place in all things, why do you exclude national constitutions from these “all things”?


He might continue, when and why did you start acting as though Christ was king only of the church? When and why did you stop instilling a distrust of princes as a fundamental rule of healthy social life?  Or reminding believers and civil rulers alike that the authorities do not have personal power but are rather the embodiment of the law and legitimate only to the degree that they discharge that responsibility faithfully?  And addressing the ruling power with the Word of Christ?  After all, “the church has to instruct it [the ruling power] in the ways of the humble state”.[66]


More anxiously, he might experience a brief crisis of confidence as he notices two things to which O’Donovan refers: that the great tradition of Christian political theology was in flow from 1100 to 1650[67] and also that:


In the seventeenth century philosophy came to lose confidence in the objectivity of final causes … now there arose a tradition of explaining societies entirely by reference to efficient causes … Individual agents had their ends; but objective structures only had their origins. Moral purposes and goals, questions of human virtue and fulfilment, seemed intrusive, another form of theocratic temptation.[68]  


Rutherford might ask, “was it something I did or said?” What went wrong with the Puritan revolution? Was it that the political endeavours of the puritans and covenanters were based on the right principles and aiming at the right objectives but prematurely and too forcibly realized?  How far were the philosophical turn from final causes and the theological turn from political thought reactions to the mid-century turmoil?  How could it have been otherwise?  Surprised at the self-loathing and fear of some modern Christians (as if the admittedly awful mistakes of previous “Christendom” attempts bore any comparison whatever to the tyrannies and mass murders of “secular” states) he might ask what is so very terrible about “official” acknowledgement of the lordship of Jesus in the public square. Does the failure and harm of one attempt in the 1650s mean that forever after it is better to deny or ignore the lordship of Jesus in constitutional matters? Is a nation a safer or healthier place under a denial of Christ’s lordship than under an acknowledgement of it?


His questions continue: Why are you so docile before the civil government as though it was spiritually dangerous to be politically critical or as though the civil ruler was not a servant of the same Christ who is bridegroom to the church?  What is the legitimacy of the civil government?  Do you agree with me that it is only legitimate so far as it is lawful and that as and when and where it contradicts the law of God it is not legitimate authority but only a beast?  What do you make of O’Donovan’s claim that:


The state exists in order to give judgment; but under the authority of Christ’s rule it gives judgment under law, never as its own law. One might say that the only sense of political authority acknowledged within Christendom was the law of the ascended Christ, and that all political authority was the authority of that law.[69]


When did you last declare that an action of the civil government was against the law of God, therefore tyrannical, and to be denounced, ignored or resisted by the people of God? Are you not – perhaps through not having thought through issues of legitimacy and of the person-office distinction – so biddable that you are in danger of performing unrighteous actions and then claiming that you were “only following orders” as if God’s requirement that you submit to the authorities were unqualified? 


Rutherford might, therefore, challenge us to think of contemporary examples of the civil government acting tyrannically and, more specifically, of what would provoke us to supplication, to flight, to non-violent resistance, and to armed resistance.  He might ask us to complete the sentence “we are to submit to the authorities so far as …”


He would ask us to explain why we act as though democracies cannot be tyrannical. Since the opposite of tyranny is “obedience to God’s law” rather than “majority support”, why do we act as though majority support legitimates the actions of a civil ruler?  If all those under 60 years of age voted to expropriate the goods of all those over 60 years of age, would that not be an act of tyranny? He might raise the question of how far and why we place establishing democratic institutions and habits of public life above or before the building of the church as the key to a stable and prosperous society. Challenging us with what we could not deny – that democracy is not the hope for the world - he might ask in what ways the church declares the danger of idolizing democracy. If health and wholeness and true humanness is secured for individuals by the gospel rather than by the establishment of democracy then would not the same be true for societies?  What leads us to put our hope for world peace (to the extent that we have such a hope) in the spread of democracy rather than in the Isaiah 2 spread of the kingdom?


And since he saw so many raised eyebrows when he spoke of there being no duty to suffer as such, he might ask in what ways, if any, we could refute his arguments about the suffering of Christ and the instructions of I Peter 2. Would we counsel the “forced damsel” to resist and if so, does not all that he says about self-defence and armed resistance simply follow on?


It would be surprising if Rutherford, visiting Britain early in the twenty-first century, did not have more immediate questions for us. Why is the civil government involved in almost every area of life, banning activities such as smoking in public places, fox-hunting, and advertisements for high-fat foods?  What is this about compulsory identity cards, and the disqualification of people from public office on the basis that they regard homosexual behaviour as sinful and the protection of his wife as one of a husband’s primary duties?  How can civil government which is the servant of God declare that the  Bible which is the Word of God,  contains hate-speech, or permit the slaughter of 170,000 babies each year while getting ever closer to forbidding parental chastisement of children?  How does armed resistance which is the use of minimal defensive force in the absolute last resort and in the face of an direct and actual assault on one’s life sit with the idea of regime change under the doctrine of “overwhelming force” and nation-building? How much attention has been paid in Iraq to the principle that the legitimacy of a conqueror depends both upon the justice of the conquest and upon the consent of the conquered?  Three hundred and sixty years after its first publication, a reading of Rutherford’s Lex, rex is uncomfortable, provocative, instructive and inspiring.





For all the words which we might put into Rutherford’s mouth, it is better that the last words should really be his. With the various twists and turns of the arguments, what drove Rutherford’s political theory was love for his King Jesus and jealousy for His glory, secured properly not only as sinners received forgiveness from him but also as rulers rendered homage and due submission to him.


“The golden reign and dominion of the Gospel, and the high glory of the never-enough-praised Prince of the kings of the earth” was Rutherford’s great ambition.[70]


This was what he suffered for: “I suffer for my royal and princely King Jesus, and for his kingly crown, and the freedom of his kingdom that his Father hath given him”.[71]


This is what he prayed for:


The kings of Tarshish and of the isles must bring presents to our Lord Jesus (Ps 72). And Britain is one of the chiefest isles; why then but we may believe that our kings of this island shall come in and bring their glory into the new Jerusalem, wherein Christ shall dwell in the latter days? It is our part to pray, “That the kingdoms of the earth may become Christ’s”.[72]


This is what he longed for: “Let never dew lie upon my branches and let my poor flower wither at the root, so that Christ were enthroned and His glory advanced in all the world and especially in these kingdoms”.[73]


And this is what he urged others to stand firm for:


Be courageous for Him. … The worms shall eat kings.[74]  It is our part to back our royal King, howbeit there was not six in all the land to follow Him.[75]


We may agree with little or with much of the political theory of Lex, rex but it would be a blessing to us, to our church and to our nation if we could have just a fraction of the spirit of Samuel Rutherford, its author, who, more than anything else, lived with the desire that as “the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead” Jesus Christ should have the first place in all things. [76]


Further Reading


Samuel Rutherford, Lex, rex, or The Law and the Prince, London, 1644   (467pp qto)

Samuel Rutherford, Lex, rex, or The Law and the Prince, Edinburgh, 1843  (234pp). Reprinted by Sprinkle Publications in 1980 and 1982. (Sprinkle Publications, PO Box 1094, Harrisonburg, VA 22801)

Samuel Rutherford, Lex, rex, or The Law and the Prince, online at http://www.constitution.org/sr/lexrex.htm   (accessed 24th November 2004)


Johannes Althusius, Politica,  An Abridged Translation of Politics Methodically Set Forth and Illustrated with Sacred and Profane Examples,  ed. and trans. By Frederick S. Carney, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Ia.XC-CVIII, “Treatise on Law”

James Atkinson, Church and State under God, Latimer Studies 15, Oxford: Latimer House, 1982

G. L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, 2nd ed. Phillipsburg NJ.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1984

William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey, eds. Theonomy: A Reformed Critique,  Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 1990

Craig Bartholomew, Jonathan Chaplin, Robert Song and Al Walters eds., A Royal Priesthood?  The Use of the Bible Ethically and Politically – A Dialogue with Oliver O’ Donovan,  Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2002

Norman P. Barry, An Introduction to Modern Political Theory,  4th ed. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000.

Frédéric Bastiat, The Law, 1850,  available online at http://bastiat.org/en/the_law.html  (accessed 24th November 2004)

Richard Baxter, A Holy Commonwealth, ed. William Lamont, Cambridge: CUP, 1994

J.H. Burns and M. Goldie eds., The Cambridge History of Political Thought 1450-1700, Cambridge: CUP 1991

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960, IV.XX

W.M. Campbell, “Lex rex and its author”, Records of the Scottish Church History Society, 7 (1941), 204-28

J. Clarke, ‘Rutherford and Resistance’ in The Standard Bearer, April 1989 online article at http://www.hopeprc.org/reformedwitness/1993/RW199307.htm (accessed 24th November 2004)

John Coffey, “Samuel Rutherford” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: OUP, 2004

John Coffey, Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions: The Mind of Samuel Rutherford, Cambridge: CUP, 1997

G.N.M. Collins, “The Scottish Covenanters”, in The Christian and the State in Revolutionary Times, papers from the 1975 Westminster Conference, pp.45-59

David Conway, Classical Liberalism, Basingstoke: MacMillan Press, 1995

Robert Duncan Culver, Towards a Biblical View of Civil Government, Chicago: Moody Press, 1974

Anthony de Jasay, Choice, Contract, Consent: A Restatement of Liberalism, London: IEA, 1991

Gary DeMar, God and Government, 3 vols, Atlanta, GA: American Vision Press, 1982-86

D. J. Engelsma, “Conditional Submission?” in Reformed Witness, Volume I, July 1993, Number 7 - two online articles at http://www.hopeprc.org/reformedwitness/1993/RW199307.htm#part2  (accessed 24th November 2004)

David Estrada, “Samuel Rutherford as a Presbyterian Theologian and Political Thinker”, Christianity and Society, XIII.4

Austin Fagothey, Right and Reason, Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1959

Richard Flinn, “Samuel Rutherford and Puritan Political Theory”, in Journal of Christian Reconstruction, 5, 1978-9, pp.49-74

J.D. Ford, “Samuel Rutherford on the Origins of Government” in Roger Mason, ed. Scots and Britons: Scottish Political Thought and the Union of 1603 Cambridge: CUP, 1994

Martin A. Foulner,  “Samuel Rutherford and Theonomy” online articles at http://www.kuyper.org/news/page_wc2.html  http://www.kuyper.org/news/page_wc3.html http://www.kuyper.org/news/page_wc4.html  (accessed 24th November 2004)

John Frame, “Towards a Theology of the State” in Westminster Theological Journal, 51.2, 1989, pp.199-226

S. Joel Garver, There is another King: Gospel as Politics, online article at http://www.lasalle.edu/~garver/gospel.htm  (accessed 24th November 2004)

David Hall,  Savior or Servant?  Putting Government in its Place,  Chap 10, “From Reformation to Revolution: 1500-1650” online article at http://www.capo.org/premise/96/mar/p.960304.html  (accessed 21st July 2004)

Martin Hengel, Christ and Power, Belfast: Christian Journals, 1977

Andrew Heywood, Political Theory, An Introduction, 2nd ed., Basingstoke: Palgrave, 1999

Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy, The God that Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order, London: Transaction, 2001

Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology, 2 vols, Oxford: OUP, 1999

Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties, New York: Harper & Row, 1983

James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes, Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1988

Mark Kishlansky, A Monarchy Transformed: Britain 1603-1714, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996

Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon, 1940

Peter J. Leithart, Against Christianity, Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003

C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 1945

J.F. Maclear, “Samuel Rutherford and Lex, rex” in G.L. Hunt and J.T. McNeill eds., Calvinism and the Political Order, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1965

J. G. McConville, Deuteronomy, Leicester: Apollos, 2002

Gerald R. McDermott, One Holy and Happy Society: The Public Theology of Jonathan Edwards, University Park, PN: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992

Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism, Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989

Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations, Cambridge: CUP, 1996

Oliver O’Donovan and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan eds., From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought 100-1625, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999

George Orwell, Animal Farm, 1945

George Orwell, 1984, 1949

Michael Ovey, Beyond Scrutiny? Minorities, majorities and post-modern tyranny,  Cambridge Papers 13.2, June 2004

John Owen, “Sermons to the Nation”,  Works, ed. W.H. Goold, Edinburgh: 1967, vol VIII

A.S. Wayne Pearce,  “John Maxwell” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: OUP, 2004

Stephen C. Perks, A Defence of the Christian State, Taunton: The Kuyper Foundation, 1998

Andries Raath and Shaun de Freitas, “Theologico-Political Federalism: The Office of Magistracy and the Legacy of Heinrich Bullinger” in Westminster Theological Journal, 63, 2001, pp.285-304

Murray N. Rothbard, “Anatomy of the State” in Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays, Auburn: Mises Institute, 2000 [1974], pp. 55-88. Available online at http://www.mises.org/easaran/chap3.asp  (accessed 24th November 2004)

Samuel Rutherford, Letters of Samuel Rutherford, ed. Andrew A. Bonar, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1984

Mary J. Ruwart, Healing our World in an Age of Aggression, 3rd ed.  Kalamazoo, MI: SunStar Press, 2003

Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction, Wheaton, Il.: Crossway Books, 1983

Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, 2 vols, Cambridge: CUP, 1978

Ian M. Smart, “The political ideas of the Scottish covenanters, 1638-88”, History of Political Thought, 1 (1980), 167-93

William R. Stevenson, “Calvin and Political Issues”, in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, ed. Donald K. McKim, Cambridge: CUP, 2004,  pp.173-187

Richard Tuck et al. eds., Philosophy and Government 1572-1651,  Cambridge: CUP, 1993

Alexander Whyte, Samuel Rutherford and Some of His Correspondents, Edinburgh: Oliphant Anderson and Ferrier, 1894

Christopher J. H. Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, Leicester: IVP, 2004

N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God,   London: SPCK, 1996

N.T. Wright, “Paul’s Gospel and Caesar’s Empire” in Center of Theological Inquiry Reflections (Princeton) 2, Spring 1999, 42–65. and online article at http://www.ctinquiry.org/publications/wright.htm  (accessed 24th November 2004)

N.T. Wright, “God and Caesar, Then and Now” in The Character of Wisdom: Essays in Honour of Wesley Carr, ed. Martyn Percy and Stephen Lowe (London: Ashgate), 157–71 and online article at http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_God_Caesar.pdf  (accessed 24th November 2004)

[1] Letters of Samuel Rutherford, CLXVIII.

[2] Such as Exercitationes Apologeticae pro Divina Gratia, 1636, which provoked his banishment to Aberdeen, and Disputatio Scholastica de Divina Providentia, 1649.

[3] Letters, CLXVII.

[4] Cambridge: CUP, 1997.  Most relevant is chapter 6, “The political theorist”, although there is a wealth of helpful material throughout the book. Other books and articles of interest are listed in Further Reading at the close of this chapter.

[5] In Politics, p. 157, Coffey states that, “Rutherford said little that had not been said before by the conciliarists, the Spanish Thomists and earlier Calvinist writers. However, he integrated their arguments in a unique manner, providing an unusually comprehensive statement of Calvinistic political thought, and at times taking up more radical positions than were normal within the constitutionalist tradition”. A look at Aquinas, Althusius, Buchanan, or Baxter confirms that Rutherford is dealing in a common currency of ideas. Parallels could be drawn at point after point and the perilous task of assigning intellectual causes and effects attempted but it would add little to the fundamentally descriptive endeavour of this chapter.

[6] In Further Reading at the close of this chapter I have listed some of the works which have most shaped my own political thought. There can be few better starting points, for the serious reader, than Oliver O’Donovan’s magisterial The Desire of the Nations along with From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought which O’Donovan co-edited with his wife, Joan Lockwood O’Donovan. For those with less time to devote to these matters, Peter Leithart’s Against Christianity is a most stimulating and highly readable introduction to some key themes in Christian political thought.  

[7] In addition to Coffey’s work, the pieces by Raath and de Freitas, by David Hall, and by J.D. Ford are useful in providing critical perspectives on Rutherford’s work. Those by Burns and Goldie, Skinner, and Tuck provide invaluable background.

[8] At the beginning of Further Reading at the end of this chapter, I have listed the three main forms in which Lex, Rex is available. It is to be hoped that a critical modern edition may be produced before long.

[9] Amongst Rutherford’s publications in the five years or so after his arrival at Westminster were the following: The Due Right of Presbyteries, 1644; The Tryal and Triumph of Faith, 1645; The Divine Right of Church Government and Excommunication, 1646; Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself, 1647; A Survey of Spiritual Antichrist, 1648; A Free Disputation against Pretended Liberty of Conscience, 1649.

[10] The title page also carried the citation: “I Sam.12.25. But if you shall still do wickedly, ye shall be consumed, both ye and your King.

[11] Coffey, Politics, p. 152.

[12] The pagination of the original is slightly muddled but there are 40 pages of title, preface and contents followed by 434 pages of text (numbered 1-467 but jumping from p. 280 to p. 313). Quotations and references in this chapter will be to the more readily available 1843 edition which modernized spelling and renumbered some paragraphs but made virtually no other changes. This edition has been recently reprinted by Sprinkle Publications. The page number in the original follows in square brackets. Additionally, Bible references have been standardized.

[13] Rutherford refers to Maxwell as, amongst other things, “the excommunicated prelate” (p. 9 [16]), “the unchurched Prelate” (p. 10 [16]),  “this Demas [who] forsook us and embraced the world” (p. 25 [43]), “this pratler” (p. 27 46]),  “this calumniator” (p. 205 [411]), “the windy man” (p. 205 [411]), and a “black-mouthed calumniator” (p. 205 [412]). He writes frequently of Maxwell’s Arminianism, calls him a “rotten papist” (p. 207 [415]), and accuses him of drunkenness (p. 181 [367]). Repeatedly he accuses Maxwell of plagiarism, calling him “the plagiary Prelate” (p. 29 [50]), “the poor Plagiarius” (p. 63 [114]), and declaring that “in his book there is not one line which is his own, except his railings” (p. 65 [118]). On p. 30 [52] Rutherford writes, “The P. Prelate might thank Spalato for this argument also, for it is stolen; but he never once named him, lest his theft should be apprehended. So are his other arguments stolen from Spalato; but the Prelate weakeneth them, and it is seen stolen goods are not blessed”.

[14] Coffey, Politics, p. 151.

[15] p. 1 [1].

[16] p. 6 [10].

[17] p. 178 [361].

[18] p. 34 [59-60].  See also pp. 46 [81-83], 159 [325-26], 162 [330-32], 185 373-75].

[19] p. 2 [2].

[20] p. 5 [8].

[21] p. 25 [44].

[22] p. 79 142].

[23] pp. 111 [201-3], 227-28 [453-56].

[24] p. 65 [116].

[25] p. 69 [124].

[26] p. 119 218].  See also pp. 142 [262-63], 210 [421], 228 [455-57].

[27] p. 119 [218].

[28] p. 124 [228].

[29] p. 137 [252].

[30] p. 103 [187-88].

[31] p. 83 [150].

[32] p. 120 [219].

[33] p. 70 [126].

[34] p. 51 [91].

[35] p. 51 [91-92].

[36] p. 66 [119].

[37] p. 51 [91].

[38] p. 64 [116].

[39] pp. 59 [105-7], 64-65 [115-118].

[40] p. 48 [85].

[41] p. 56 [100].

[42] p. 44 [78].

[43] p. 94 [171].

[44] p. 34 [59].

[45] p. 38 [67].

[46] p. 55 [99].

[47] p. 166 [339].

[48] p. 110 [200].

[49] p. 117 [213-14].

[50] p. 39 [68].

[51] p. 36 [63].

[52] p. 143 [264].

[53] p. 69 [125]. See also p. 141 [261].

[54] There is another King, “Conclusions”.

[55] O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations, p. 19.

[56] Rutherford, Letters, CCLXXXI.

[57] Coffey, Politics, p. 157.

[58] Leithart, Against Christianity, p. 125.

[59] O’Donovan, Desire, p. 195.

[60] O’Donovan, Desire, p. 217.

[61] O’Donovan, Desire, p.247.

[62] Coffey, Politics, p. 29.

[63] Coffey, Politics, p. 187.

[64] O’Donovan, Desire, p. 146-47.

[65] O’Donovan, Desire, p. 274.

[66] O’Donovan, Desire, p. 219.

[67] O’Donovan, Desire, p. 4.

[68] O’Donovan, Desire, p. 8.

[69] O’Donovan, Desire, p. 233.

[70] Letters, CCLXXXVIII.

[71] Letters, LXI.

[72] Letters, CCLXXXVIII.

[73] Letters, CCLXXXIV.

[74] Letters, CCLXVIII.

[75] Letters, CLXXI.