Review: Gordon Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things

This book isn’t perfect but it does exhibit all of Dr Clark’s strengths as a communicator  My main problem with the book is the chapter lengths: they are excessively long. This isn’t too much of a problem, except Clark will spend 90% of the chapter debunking erroneous views, but he only gives a few pages to the biblical position, and even then it is only a summary.

Notwithstanding, there are a few areas where Clark shines, notably epistemology.  Even then, though, it is limited. We get evaluations of empiricism, skepticism, and relativism, and Clark lists all the inadequacies of these views–but there is more to epistemology than a survey of three or four options.  The book doesn’t have much on belief-formation, justification of knowledge, etc. Nonetheless, Clark hints towards a theistic summary (which would be later fine-tuned by Carl F Henry).

The Philosophy of Politics

What is the function of government?  Clark examines numerous ethical theories (Bentham, Aristotle, Plato) and notes that the definition of good [for government] depends on one’s nature of man (113).

A problem with Rousseau: “He seems to be torn between an infallible general will that cannot express itself and an expressed majority vote that is not infallible…” (121).

Theistic view:  state has limited power (136).  God is the source of all rights.

Funny quote: “But if men are essentially good, how is it that when they pass from psychology or theology to politics only the poor remain good and the wealthy become evil?   [The demand] for more government seems to imply that not only are poor people good, but politicians are even better” (139).

“The truths or propositions that may be known are the thoughts of God, the eternal thought of God. And insofar as man knows anything he is in contact with God’s mind.  Since, further, God’s mind is God, we may legitimately borrow the figurative language, if not the precise meaning, of the mystics and say, we have a vision of God” (321).

This is good.  And I think Clark was correct over Van Til on this point.  This also nicely sidesteps the Eastern Orthodox critique that the West relies on created grace and avoids any direct contact with God.  If Clark’s analysis holds, however, this isn’t true.

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Turretin on the civil magistrate

A godly magistrate can call a council, for magistrates are nurse-fathers to the church (Isa. 49:21-23, p. 308).

On The Civil Magistrate

Thirty Fourth Question:  What is the right of the Christian magistrate about sacred things, and does the care and recognition of religion belong in any way to him?  We affirm.

  1. Thesis: the pious and believing magistrate cannot and ought not to be excluded from all care of religion and sacred things, which has been enjoined upon him by God (316)
    1. “A multiple right concerning sacred things.”
    2. Isaiah 49.23 calls him a “nursing father” to the church.
    3. Magistrates are called “gods” (Ps. 82.6).
    4. Natural law argument: to him is commended the safety of the commonwealth and all things pertaining to it, which includes religion.
  2. Explanation: While magistrates may not usurp the calling of preachers, they may still discharge the duties of their own office.
    1. As ministers may not draw the sword, so magistrates may not take the keys of the kingdom.
    2. Jesus told kings to “Kiss the Son” (Ps 2).
  3. Magistrates have a limited, not absolute sacred right.
    1. Stated negatively
      1. He cannot make new articles of faith.
      2. He cannot preach or administer the sacraments.
      3. He cannot exercise church discipline
    2. Stated positively
      1. Establish sacred doctrine in the state and reform it when it falls, as per Asa, Josiah, etc.
      2. Protect the church, restrain heretics, promote the glory of God.
      3. Open and encourage schools (320).
      4. Convene councils
  4. Political power is occupied with a thing either directly and immediately, or indirectly, mediately, and consequently..
    1. In the former, it is concerned with the external man.
    2. In the latter, with spiritual.
    3. If the title “Head of the Church” is applied to the magistrate, then it can only be applied in an external, defensive way (322).
  5. Can he compel to faith? (323ff)
    1. “No one ought to be forced to faith.”
  6. What about heretics?
    1. Heretics should be punished, but not capitally (327ff).
    2. They can poison a nation just as thoroughly as an “external criminal.”  However, Turretin makes a distinction between the ringleaders and those deceived.  The latter shouldn’t really be punished.
    3. Turretin gives three propositions:
      1. Heretics can be coerced.
      2. Most heretics shouldn’t be executed.
      3. One may kill blasphemous arch-heretics (332).

Review and Outline of Lex, Rex

This is Samuel Rutherford’s response to the prelate Maxwell who advocated absolute obedience to monarchs in all respects. This book is a point by point refutation (and reads like it). Rutherford’s Key argument: “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” (Rutherford 1).

We can say it another way: We can reorder the scholastic causes (formal, efficient, material, final) to forms of limitation: what is the purpose of govt? Who or what brings govt into existence? Who or what constitutes govt? If these distinctions aren’t kept in mind, Rutherford’s argument doesn’t make sense. In fact, constitutional govt wouldn’t make sense, either.

Rutherford explains government is natural in its root but voluntary in its mode. Further, The power of creating a man a king is from the people (6). Can the people cede all of their liberty to the king? No, for the people do not have absolute power over themselves. You cannot cede what you do not have (81). The king is above the people by eminence of derived authority as watchman, but he is inferior to them in fountain-power, as the effect to the cause (115). This is Rutherford’s key, and in my opinion, strongest, argument in the book. God’s intention per civil govt is “external peace, and quiet life, and godliness of his church and people, and that all judges, according to their places, be nurse-fathers to the church (Isa. 40.23)” (105).

Can we resist the government? Well, individually no. As a member of an estate and body politic, yes. Resistance and patient suffering are not contraries when considered as virtues (153ff). If resistance can fall under the virtue of self-preservation, then it is not an evil. Were the entire Parliament and city of London to lay down their arms and go meekly to their deaths at the hand of Irish rebels? In lighter situations, such as taxes and tribute, we may not use acts of re-offending. Did Paul meekly submit to the king of Damascus or did he engage in self-preservation and escape (159)?

The book is somewhat difficult to read because Rutherford is engaging in a point-by-point refutation of Maxwell, so it isn’t always clear which point is under discussion.

Analytical Outline

I found Rev David Field’s analyses of Rutherford very helpful and invaluable.

http://davidpfield.com/other/rutherfordccs.pdf

http://www.davidpfield.com/published-articles/Rutherford-resistance.pdf

Rev Field’s key point, taken from Rutherford:

A woman or a young man may violently oppose a king, if he force the one to adultery and incest, and the other to sodomy (162 [331]).

If it be natural to one man to defend himself against the personal invasion of a prince, then is it natural and warrantable to ten thousand, and to a whole kingdom ; and what reason to defraud a kingdom of the benefit of self-defence more than one man? (158 [324])?

Key argument: 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 (Rutherford 1).

Field neatly rephrases Rutherford’s argument: If we reorder the causes (to final, efficient, formal and material) and take “cases of  resistance” to be “forms of limitation” we may rephrase the conclusions of Lex, rex as a series of 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? What are the due limitations of civil government (Field 5)?

Rutherford gives a book-length response to “P. Prelate.”

C1: “All civil power is immediately from God in its root” (Rutherford 1).

  1. Civil society is natural in radice but voluntary in modo.
  2. The power of creating a man a king is from the people (6).
    1. Judges 9.6; 1 Sam. 11.15
    2. A choice is made to choose this man and not that man.
  3. Is God’s call to not resist ordained authorities always absolute?  Rutherford gives a number of reductios to prove otherwise:
    1. A pastor is ordained of God; if a pastor becomes a robber, is it a sin to resist him?
    2. If a king brings in foreign invaders, such as “Irish cutthroats,” it is lawful to resist (15).

C2: Where obligation exists by contract, violation of the faith plighted in the contract, cannot in proper terms be called disobedience or contempt of authority (24).

  1. Government and power-making: the community, not the Pope, doth put forth this act (making a king) as a free, voluntary power (29).
  2. The community keeps to itself a power to resist tyranny (35).
  3. The previous laws of a community or nation give people the right to resist invaders who try to overthrow that order (36).

C3: Idolatry and Prior Laws

  1. If a nation is Christian (or theistic), the people do not have to aid a ruler in making it idolatrous (40).
  2. Rutherford’s hypotheticals are quite interesting:  if a king invites Papists to invade and subdue the Protestants, must the Protestants merely accept this?
  3. Covenants limit the power of kings (57).
  4. The Western legal heritage at this time had already limited the power of kings: if a king negates the conditions which made him king (e.g., the people’s investiture), then he may be negated since he violated them “from his own consent” (63).

C4: Nature and Destruction

  1. Law is rooted in nature and nature can’t be destroyed.  Therefore, a king doesn’t have the power to destruction (66).
  2. What if a people are conquered?
    1. This is why there really can’t be a “blank check to Nero” type interpretation, otherwise it gets really silly.
      1. This means “might makes right.”
      2. So, the new conqueror is automatically “the powers that be”?
      3. Does that mean the old–indeed, legitimate–ruler is now illegitimate?
      4. At what point does he become illegitimate–when the new conqueror conquers 50.01% of the land?
    2. Presumably, given the analysis in 2.1.1-2.1.4, a people would be sinning in resisting.   Yet, let’s say they “reconquered” the conquerors.  Does that automatically make them “in the right?”

C5: Kingmakers

  1. The Holy Spirit invests the people (Dt. 17.15-16) with kingmaking power.
    1. But that’s the Old Testament!
    2. Fair enough–it is also Western (and Russian) legal tradition.
  2. Can the people cede all of their liberty to the king?
    1. No, for the people do not have absolute power over themselves.
    2. You cannot cede what you do not have (81).
  3. They give the king political power to their own safety, but reserve natural power to themselves.  Here Rutherford buttresses his argument with natural law reasoning and the 6th Commandment.
  4. Inferior magistrates are also “powers from God” (else, if Paul were just talking about the king, why didn’t he simply say “power”?).
    1. They also bear God’s sword (90).
  5. Scripture notes the people make the king, never the king the people (113).
    1. The people united to make David king at Hebron.
    2. The king is above the people by eminence of derived authority as watchman, but he is inferior to them in fountain-power, as the effect to the cause (115).  This is Rutherford’s key, and in my opinion, strongest, argument in the book.

C6: Parliament and the People

  1. “The princes of the house of Israel could not be rebuked for oppression in judgment (Mic. 3.1-3) if they had not the power of judgment” (95).
  2. Historical reductio:  Did Parliament sin by not giving Charles I the tax legislation he wanted?  
  3. The Parliament can resist the king, for it, too, his of God, even “a congregation of gods” (111, quoting Psalm 82.6).

C7: Is the King absolute?

  1. God does not give absolute power, because: (101ff)
    1. The king has his power from the people, as already established.
    2. The king is commonly known as a living law, but if he is a law then he is not absolute.
    3. Is the power to do evil from God?
      1. Depends on what kind of distinctions we make.  If “power” means “approval from God,” then did David have the power to kill Uriah and deflower Bathsheba (103)?
      2. Obviously, that is not a positive power but a mere permission.
      3. In either case, the king doesn’t have absolute power.
    4. The power to work contrary to the Good cannot be a lawful power, since the king is a minister of God for Good.
    5. The prophets rebuked the kings of Israel; hence, the power was not absolute.

C8: The Goal of Civil Govt.

  1. God’s intention per civil govt is “external peace, and quiet life, and godliness of his church and people, and that all judges, according to their places, be nurse-fathers to the church (Isa. 40.23)” (105).
  2. Therefore, God must have appointed means to this end.
    1. The obstruction of Good and justice works contrary to this end.

C9: The Health of the People

  1. If the people are the cause of the king, then their own safety must be principally sought (119).
  2. What is the end or purpose of the king?  The king isn’t the king simply so he can be the king.  Therefore, the prelate’s argument is reduced thus:
    1. The king is a lame king unless given the power to waste and destroy.
    2. The king cannot be happy unless he has the power to lay waste the Lord’s inheritance.

C10: Royalty mediately

  1. The king has royalty mediately by the people’s free consent (123).
  2. Power is not an immediate inheritance from heaven but is always mediated in situations.

C11: Judges and the Laws

  1. If judges exist, then the king is not the sole interpreter of the law (137).

C12: War

  1. Private subjects, Rutherford carefully argues, may not officially rise against the king.  Estates, however, may (139).
  2. There is a distinction between the king in concreto and the king in abstracto (office of the king).

C13: Venerable authority

  1. The person of the king is not venerable in its authority.
  2. If the contrary hold true, then Manasseh did not shed innocent blood or engage in sorcery (150).

C14: Resistance and patient suffering are not contraries when considered as virtues (153ff).

  1. If resistance can fall under the virtue of self-preservation, then it is not an evil.
  2. Were the entire Parliament and city of London to lay down their arms and go meekly to their deaths at the hand of Irish rebels?
  3. In lighter situations, such as taxes and tribute, we may not use acts of re-offending.
  4. Did Paul meekly submit to the king of Damascus or did he engage in self-preservation and escape (159)?

C15: Self-Defense as Rational and Natural

  1. We must first engage in supplications.
  2. Flight is not always possible or natural, as in the case of the aged and infants.
  3. Rutherford makes an interesting assertion:  “No man in the 3 kingdoms sought to harm the king’s person” (162).  It does not seem that Rutherford would agree with Charles’ execution.
  4. Humorous reductio on the Irish rebel and natural law (165).

C16: More on Just War Theory and Defensive Wars (166ff)

  1. As the priests executed a ceremonial law on King Uzziah, so may the three estates of Scotland execute the  moral law of God upon the king (171).

C17: But what about martyrs? (182ff)

  1. Can Christians defend themselves against murderers?

Working outline of Lex, Rex

I still have 100 pages to go in my outline.  Most of my critical help has come from Rev. David Field.

I found Rev David Field’s analyses of Rutherford very helpful and invaluable.

http://davidpfield.com/other/rutherfordccs.pdf

http://www.davidpfield.com/published-articles/Rutherford-resistance.pdf

Rev Field’s key point, taken from Rutherford:

A woman or a young man may violently oppose a king, if he force the one to adultery and incest, and the other to sodomy (162 [331]).

If it be natural to one man to defend himself against the personal invasion of a prince, then is it natural and warrantable to ten thousand, and to a whole kingdom ; and what reason to defraud a kingdom of the benefit of self-defence more than one man? (158 [324])?

Key argument: 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 (Rutherford 1).

Field neatly rephrases Rutherford’s argument: If we reorder the causes (to final, efficient, formal and material) and take “cases of

resistance” to be “forms of limitation” we may rephrase the conclusions of Lex, rex as a series of 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? What are the due limitations of civil government (Field 5)?

Rutherford gives a book-length response to “P. Prelate.”

C1: “All civil power is immediately from God in its root” (Rutherford 1).

  1. Civil society is natural in radice but voluntary in modo.
  2. The power of creating a man a king is from the people (6).
    1. Judges 9.6; 1 Sam. 11.15
    2. A choice is made to choose this man and not that man.
  3. Is God’s call to not resist ordained authorities always absolute?  Rutherford gives a number of reductios to prove otherwise:
    1. A pastor is ordained of God; if a pastor becomes a robber, is it a sin to resist him?
    2. If a king brings in foreign invaders, such as “Irish cutthroats,” it is lawful to resist (15).

C2: Where obligation exists by contract, violation of the faith plighted in the contract, cannot in proper terms be called disobedience or contempt of authority (24).

  1. Government and power-making: the community, not the Pope, doth put forth this act (making a king) as a free, voluntary power (29).
  2. The community keeps to itself a power to resist tyranny (35).
  3. The previous laws of a community or nation give people the right to resist invaders who try to overthrow that order (36).

C3: Idolatry and Prior Laws

  1. If a nation is Christian (or theistic), the people do not have to aid a ruler in making it idolatrous (40).
  2. Rutherford’s hypotheticals are quite interesting:  if a king invites Papists to invade and subdue the Protestants, must the Protestants merely accept this?
  3. Covenants limit the power of kings (57).
  4. The Western legal heritage at this time had already limited the power of kings: if a king negates the conditions which made him king (e.g., the people’s investiture), then he may be negated since he violated them “from his own consent” (63).

C4: Nature and Destruction

  1. Law is rooted in nature and nature can’t be destroyed.  Therefore, a king doesn’t have the power to destruction (66).
  2. What if a people are conquered?
    1. This is why there really can’t be a “blank check to Nero” type interpretation, otherwise it gets really silly.
      1. This means “might makes right.”
      2. So, the new conqueror is automatically “the powers that be”?
      3. Does that mean the old–indeed, legitimate–ruler is now illegitimate?
      4. At what point does he become illegitimate–when the new conqueror conquers 50.01% of the land?
    2. Presumably, given the analysis in 2.1.1-2.1.4, a people would be sinning in resisting.   Yet, let’s say they “reconquered” the conquerors.  Does that automatically make them “in the right?”

C5: Kingmakers

  1. The Holy Spirit invests the people (Dt. 17.15-16) with kingmaking power.
    1. But that’s the Old Testament!
    2. Fair enough–it is also Western (and Russian) legal tradition.
  2. Can the people cede all of their liberty to the king?
    1. No, for the people do not have absolute power over themselves.
    2. You cannot cede what you do not have (81).
  3. They give the king political power to their own safety, but reserve natural power to themselves.  Here Rutherford buttresses his argument with natural law reasoning and the 6th Commandment.
  4. Inferior magistrates are also “powers from God” (else, if Paul were just talking about the king, why didn’t he simply say “power”?).
    1. They also bear God’s sword (90).
  5. Scripture notes the people make the king, never the king the people (113).
    1. The people united to make David king at Hebron.
    2. The king is above the people by eminence of derived authority as watchman, but he is inferior to them in fountain-power, as the effect to the cause (115).  This is Rutherford’s key, and in my opinion, strongest, argument in the book.

C6: Parliament and the People

  1. “The princes of the house of Israel could not be rebuked for oppression in judgment (Mic. 3.1-3) if they had not the power of judgment” (95).
  2. Historical reductio:  Did Parliament sin by not giving Charles I the tax legislation he wanted?  
  3. The Parliament can resist the king, for it, too, his of God, even “a congregation of gods” (111, quoting Psalm 82.6).

C7: Is the King absolute?

  1. God does not give absolute power, because: (101ff)
    1. The king has his power from the people, as already established.
    2. The king is commonly known as a living law, but if he is a law then he is not absolute.
    3. Is the power to do evil from God?
      1. Depends on what kind of distinctions we make.  If “power” means “approval from God,” then did David have the power to kill Uriah and deflower Bathsheba (103)?
      2. Obviously, that is not a positive power but a mere permission.
      3. In either case, the king doesn’t have absolute power.
    4. The power to work contrary to the Good cannot be a lawful power, since the king is a minister of God for Good.
    5. The prophets rebuked the kings of Israel; hence, the power was not absolute.

C8: The Goal of Civil Govt.

  1. God’s intention per civil govt is “external peace, and quiet life, and godliness of his church and people, and that all judges, according to their places, be nurse-fathers to the church (Isa. 40.23)” (105).
  2. Therefore, God must have appointed means to this end.
    1. The obstruction of Good and justice works contrary to this end.

C9: The Health of the People

  1. If the people are the cause of the king, then their own safety must be principally sought (119).
  2. What is the end or purpose of the king?  The king isn’t the king simply so he can be the king.  Therefore, the prelate’s argument is reduced thus:
    1. The king is a lame king unless given the power to waste and destroy.
    2. The king cannot be happy unless he has the power to lay waste the Lord’s inheritance.

C10: Royalty mediately

  1. The king has royalty mediately by the people’s free consent (123).
  2. Power is not an immediate inheritance from heaven but is always mediated in situations.

C11: Judges and the Laws

  1. If judges exist, then the king is not the sole interpreter of the law (137).

C12: War

  1. Private subjects, Rutherford carefully argues, may not officially rise against the king.  Estates, however, may (139).
  2. There is a distinction between the king in concreto and the king in abstracto (office of the king).

Politics, Religion, British Revolution (Review)

By John Coffey.

John Coffey has filled in a woeful lacuna in Reformed historical scholarship: the absence of a good, critical, and thorough biography of the Covenanter Samuel Rutherford. In fact, Coffey goes on to say that there is not a decent biography of an Scot between John Knox and figures early in the 18th century.

In terms of scholarship the book is first-rate. The bibliography alone is worth purchasing the book. There is one problem, though: Coffey is a baptist. Now, I am not being mean or parochial in saying that. Coffey himself admits it. I bring that up because the Baptist worldview necessarily entails certain things about covenants, politics, and even how one views salvation. Coffey himself admits this colors his conclusion somewhat (Coffey, xi). At the end of the book Coffey will disagree with Rutherford’s worldview, but until then he does a wonderful job explaining it. The book is divided into eight chapters, with six analyzing different aspects of Rutherford.

In terms of actual biography, Coffey stays to the main tradition and simply updates older scholarship. Of interest is his suggestion that Rutherford fornicated in his youth (37). Coffey admits there isn’t decisive evidence for it, but suggests he did anyway. Myself, I’ll stick with the evidence and just say, “I don’t know.” In explaining his life Coffey points out how various religious communities have approached Rutherford. Evangelical pietists (likely Banner of Truth) have focused on Rutherford’s letters and its warm piety. Theonomists and the Christian Right in America focused on Lex, Rex, claiming Rutherford anticipated Lockean ideas of liberal democracy. Thankfully, Coffey buries the Christian Right myth by pointing out, contrary to Francis Schaeffer, that there is no evidence that Locke or Witherspoon ever read Rutherford (12).

The Scholar

The chapter on Rutherford the scholar examines his academic upbringing. Of particular note is the various strands of post-Renaissance and Reformation secular learning that was employed at various universities. Rutherford will later synthesize Thomism and biblical law and the beginnings of the former regarding Rutherford are found here. Coffey’s discussion of Ramism is intruguing.

The Pastor

Continuing with the more biographical strand, Coffey recounts the various troubles Rutherford got into as a pastor. I won’t say more since this information is readily available elsewhere.

The Reformed Theologian

This is where the money begins. Despite much of Coffey’s antipathy towards Rutherford, Coffey does a fine job explicating Rutherford’s high Calvinism. He begins by burying earlier Calvin vs. the Calvinists theses, showing that they reflect more of Barth’s disciples than they do of Calvin. Therefore, Rutherford can be seen continuing Calvin’s high predestinarianism within the framework of a covenant and using a different grammar than Calvin, but all the while staying faithful to the Reformed tradition. First, we must see Rutherford’s foil: Arminianism.

Arminianism: divine election is based on foreknowledge of human choices. (this does touch on the Middle Knowledge debate, which will be discussed below). Rutherford responds that this denies God as the author of second causes. Arminians deny that grace determines the decision of free agency; claiming that both act together, this makes both “joint causes, the one not depending on the other…because second causes were denied, God was no longer master of events and altogether sufficient” (119-120). Even worse, Arminianism (and I will put all forms of full-syngerism and semi-Pelagianism under this umbrella for the moment) does not escape the problem of theodicy. True, the Calvinist may have trouble explaining why God predestined some but not others, but the Arminian must explain why God created people whom he knew would reject him and burn forever (120).

Divine Premotion: in responding to the Molinists, Rutherford fell back on an old Thomist idea–God acts on secondary causes to produce actual effects (125). Rutherford’s other views led to a supralapsarianism with its strengths and weaknesses.

Covenant theology: This will come into play later in the section on politics, but I will deal with it now to show that Coffey misunderstands Rutherford on one key point (more on that below). Coffey correctly places Rutherford in the line of John Knox, not John Locke. Rutherford’s covenant theology also functions as a prism by which he will launch his political theology. Coffey will later charge Rutherford with trying to force “Reformed Christian” rules on an ungodly Scotland. Further, Coffey argues that this is inconsistent: how can one force the covenant of grace on those who do not necessarily have grace? There are many lines of response, but my main thought is, “So what?” Anyone who’s spent more than fifteen minutes reading ethics knows that is does not always correspond to ought. For example, I know unregenerate people in America might want to commit murder–they’ll never change. Should I then, as a magistrate, not pass a law against murder?

Natural Law: Coffey suggests that Rutherford forged an uneasy connection between natural law and biblical law. Lex, Rex was written to justify resistance to the king. Contra Locke, Rutherford argued that the fundamental unit is not the individual, but the covenant community. The making of a king, therefore, has two dimensions: his immediate authorization from God, and the mediate authorization through the covenant community. Civil society, Rutherford would argue, is natural in radice and voluntary in modo.

Covenant and resistance: The people (we will leave that term undefined for the moment) could resist an ungodly king if he broke the covenant. Coffey suggests that Rutherford was embarrassed by the New Testament injunctions against rebellion. I think Coffey is embarrassed. True, the New Testament warns against lawless rebellion, but these ethical commands, like all ethical commands, have to be applied in day-to-day situations. What about the numerous Old Testament commands to rebel against lawfully-ordained tyrants? Did God change his moral standard? Rutherford actually mentions these verses, but Coffey doesn’t deal with them

Coffey, however, is to be commended for calling to light some humorous comments from Rutherford. One of the planks of natural law reasoning is the command to preserve our own life, other things being equal (interestingly, Jesus’ command to love others as ourselves is meaningless if the following premise is not granted). Rutherford asks, “If an Irish criminal, who happens to be deputized by the king, is about to kill us, natural law requires us to unhorse him and then engage in reasoning.” Rutherford does list a number of other situations where armed resistance is the only moral option: if the deputy/king wants you to sodomize someone, violate a woman, etc., only a morally-diseased person will plead pacifism in that case. That last line is from me, not Coffey.

Ecclesiastical Statesman: Coffey shows remarkable restraint on Rutherford’s presbyterianism. There is not much to add to this chapter.

National Prophet: This is where Coffey starts to get annoyed at Rutherford. He suggests that Rutherford’s covenantal theology, which included the non-elect, was in tension with his ideas of a “purged and renewed Scotland.” There is tension in how Rutherford applied it, and I think Rutherford can be justly criticized on those points, but I see no tension in the thesis itself. Of interest is Rutherford’s exegesis of Isaiah 49, wherein he sees Scotland prophesied as one of “the isles.” We may laugh at such exegesis, but I think there is something to it. Rutherford’s point, though, is that Scotland had received and banqueted with Christ, and then her nobles forsook him. Which leads Rutherford to his next point, judgment.

Apocalypticism. Coffey has an interesting chapter on Rutherford’s apocalyptic language, but like all academics, he misses the larger point. Not once does Coffey rightly identify this for what it is: historicist eschatology. This is an old Protestant reading of Scripture and how Coffey, who has done thorough research on everything else, missed this point is beyond me. Congruent with my own interests, though, is Rutherford’s awareness of that great champion of Protestantism, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (230, 239), whom Rutherford calls “a latter day Gideon.” (Coffey is somewhat smug in noting Rutherford’s dismay at Gustvus’ death, as though this disproved Rutherford’s eschatology. I think there are answers here, but I won’t waste time responding to them).

Conclusion and Critique

In terms of thorough scholarship, this book is to be commended. There are few modern (if any) biographies on Rutherford. The price, unfortunately, will deter many from buying it. The book has its imperfections, though. Coffey criticizes Rutherford on the last page as pursuing the wrong causes. He should have pursued an evangelical pietism instead (258). This is ironic because Coffey earlier criticized pietistic readings of Rutherford. We grant with Coffey that Rutherford faced a difficulty in applying the covenants to a largely unregenerate nation, but so what? We must be faithful to the Lord regardless of what the situation looks like. If the world and nation are dark and opposed to us, it is precisely at that moment that we press the Crown Rights.