The 17th Century Roger Williams--John Cotton Debate
Part II.

Foreshadowing the Modern Debate of the Religious Right and Separationists
To Footnotes

Williams on the Theory of the Church, continued.

Williams says that this invisible church, alone, is to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament's "Israel" motif. Cotton and many others have suggested that America is a "Christian nation" or the true Israel of God.

But Williams says that the Old Testament physical usage of Israel as a nation is a type, symbol, or metaphor of the Church of the New Testament, and that all the laws governing Israel in the Old Testament are not meant to be followed now as examples by secular or supposed "Christian" nations, but that these laws must act simply as metaphors of the true Church.

Christ Jesus is come, so unmatchable and never to be paralleled by any national state that was Israel in the figure or shadow. And yet, the Israel of God now, the regenerate or newborn, the circumsized in heart by repentance and mortification, who willingly submit unto the Lord Jesus as their only King and Head, may fitly parallel and answer to that Israel in the type, without such danger of hypocrisy, of such horrible profanations, and of firing the civil state in such bloody combustions as all ages have brought forth upon this compelling a whole nation or kingdom to be the antitype of Israel...34

Williams was known as a "Seeker" in his own personal life quest. His early labors to find the "true church" were what led him to the conclusion that there was no true church on earth, in terms of human denominations. He took his bearings directly from the Bible and his devotion to Christ and he encouraged others to do likewise.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CHURCH AND STATE. Cotton. The state should enforce the proper manner of worship in the church. Cotton argues from the biblical example of Paul in the book of Acts being taken before Caesar that the state has the power to judge in matters religious:

That a man may be such an offender in matters of religion (against the law of God, against the church, as well as in civil matters against Caesar) as to be worthy of death...[and] that for the judgment of his person in these causes (whether ecclesiastical or civil), it is lawful in some cases to appeal to a civil, though a pagan, magistrate...that the civil magistrate, whether Christian or pagan, may, and ought to...be able to judge, though not of all questions, yet of capital offenses against religion, as well as against the civil state.35

Historian Paul Johnson, writing this year of Cotton's era, gives a judiciious synopsis of what would be Cottonian orthodoxy:

"Hence the men who founded the English colonies in America drew no distinction between church and state: both were at one in enabling the City upon a Hill to be built...It followed that the civil authority had the right to punish religious offenses as well as what we would call secular ones. In Winthrop's Massachusetts, all, whether freemen or not, had to swear an oath of loyalty to the government and undertake to submit to its authority, whether wielded in religious or in secular matters...36

Several examples of the use of the state police powers at this time will show that Cotton and his fellow elders carried this philosophy beyond mere intellectual assent. In August 1630, for instance, Governor Winthrop accused and convicted Thomas Morton of Boston of "erecting a maypole and reveling." Morton's house was burned down and he was put in the stocks while awaiting execution of sentence to be shipped back to England. The following June, Winthrop recorded in his journal that Philip Ratcliffe was whipped and had both his ears cut off for "most fould, scandalous invectives against our churches and government." Sir Christopher Gardiner was banished for what was described as "bigamy and papism."37

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CHURCH AND STATE Williams. Williams said that no state could handle questions dealing with the first four of the Ten Commandments.38 Those were reserved for God and His church to discipline. The state could deal with matters human and civil stemming from the last six commandments, those of the second table dealing with human relationships.39 This was true whether the state was Christian or not.

A civil ministry, or office merely human and civil, which men agree to constitute, called therefore an human creation, and is as true and lawful in those nations, cities, kingdoms, etc., which never heard of the true God, nor His holy Son, Jesus, as in any part of the world besides, where the name of Jesus is most taken up. From all which premises, viz., that the scope of the spirit of God...is to handle the matter so the second table...since the magistrates, of whom Paul wrote, were natural, ungodly, persecuting, and yet lawful magistrates, and to be obeyed in all lawful civil things.40

The relationship between the church and the state must be distinct and decided. They are in two different realms. The state deals with the fleshy, physical, visible, and outward realm of man and the church is the incorporated body of God's Spirit, by its nature invisible and spiritual. This point Williams comes back to time and time again. Since all magistrates are God's ministers, essentially civil, bounded to a civil work, with civil instruments or weapons, and paid or rewarded with civil rewards.

From all which, I say...it cannot truly be alleged by any for the power of the civil magistrate to be exercised in spiritual and soul matters...41

By the last will and testament of Christ Jesus, we find not the least title of commission to the civil magistrate (as civil) to judge and act in the matter of His spiritual kingdom.42

The work [of a church-state union] has never prospered.43

What is, then, the express duty of the civil magistrate as to Christ Jesus, His Gospel, and kingdom?... First, in removing the civil bars, obstructions, hindrances, in taking off those yokes that pinch the very souls and consciences of men, such as yet are the payments of tithes and the maintenance of ministers they have no faith in; such are the enforced oaths,and some ceremonies therein, in all the Courts of Justice; such are the holy martyrings, holy buryings, etc. Secondly, in a free and absolute permission of the consciences of all men, in what is merely spiritual, not the very consciences of the Jews, nor the consciences of the Turks or Papists, or pagans themselves excepted. But how will this propogate the Gospel of Christ Jesus? I answer thus: The first grand design of Christ Jesus is to destroy and consume His mortal enemy, Antichrist. This must be done by the breath of His mouth in His prophets and witnesses. Now the nations of the world have impiously stopped this heavenly breath, and stifled the Lord Jesus in His servants...44

LIBERTY OF CONSCIENCE. Cotton. Cotton asserted that the only religious freedom that God granted mankind was an absolute freedom to accept His will. There was no religious liberty other than to choose God's single revealed will. His liberty of conscience did not include toleration. He thought toleration would allow religious abomination and the spread of error. Through the superintending of Cotton, Massachusetts set up a uniform system of worship and penalized those who dissented from the establishment.

It is no impeachment of church liberty, but an enlargement of its beauty and honor, to be bound by strict laws and holy commandments, to observe the pure worship of God, and to be subject unto due punishment for the gross violation of the same... It is a great advancement to the beauty and comeliness of a church [and] state, when people and magistrates do both consent together to purge the whole country, even to the utmost bounds of the churches, from corruption in religion, and to adorn the same with exemplary justice upon notorious offenders...45

LIBERTY OF CONSCIENCE Williams. Here is Williams at his heart's best. He is known for his doctrine of "soul liberty", the concept that a radical freedom is obtained by one--a renewed saint--in his relationship with God. Whereas Massachusetts had a delimited constituency by virtue of its restricted system of worship, Williams' Rhode Island offered a sanctuary for every religious persuasion in the seventeenth century.

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