For Those Interested in the Puritans and English History...


This article was published in the Puritan Reformed Journal, vol.2, no.2 (July 2010), 143-57. Used by permission.

A HALF REFORMATION: English Puritanism According to Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)

Michael Brown, M.A., M.Div. Pastor, Christ United Reformed Church Santee, CA


            Ever since its emergence in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as a post-Reformation movement to reform the Church of England, Puritanism has been a controversial subject. Indeed, the very terms Puritan and Puritanism often evoke images of rigid legalists in black stockings living with the “haunting fear,” as H.L. Mencken put it, “that someone, somewhere is having a good time.” According to historian C.V. Wedgwood, the term Puritan, originally, “had no definite and no official meaning: it was a term of abuse merely.”[1] Prominent figures such as William Shakespeare and King James I used the term pejoratively.[2] Carl Trueman points out that much of the secondary scholarship which grew up around the events of the seventeenth century portrayed Puritanism as “a mere embarrassment, a rather crude aberration of personal freedom and the wanton destruction of much beautiful ecclesiastical art.”[3] Even Protestant scholars in the twentieth century have demonized Puritanism. In his influential book, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649, R.T. Kendall indicts Puritan theologians on charges of hijacking the warm and scriptural theology of John Calvin and other early Reformers with a cold scholasticism, Aristotelianism, and rationalism.[4]  

            On the other hand, some have regarded the Puritans as heroes, likening their spiritual stature to California’s giant Redwoods.[5] Through their production of sermons, catechisms, confessions of faith, and prolific theological treatises in response to the challenges of Arminianism, Socinianism, and a reinvigorated Roman Catholicism, a large number of the Puritans have been viewed by many scholars as the faithful and legitimate heirs of Calvin and the early Reformation.[6]

            With such opposing opinions, how should we then evaluate Puritanism as a movement? In brief, we should not do so simplistically. Puritanism is a broad and variegated movement from history that involves many complex theological, political, and cultural factors. Any serious evaluation of Puritanism should, therefore, involve a thorough study of the primary sources, without neglecting secondary source literature. This should include the personal correspondence of primary source authors, which provides us with a window into the era of Puritanism and facilitates our evaluation.

            The purpose of this essay is to consider the personal correspondence of Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), a Scottish divine and member of the Westminster Assembly. It pursues the question of what Rutherford believed about Puritanism by examining his interactions with and evaluations of the movement. It argues that Rutherford gave a mixed evaluation of English Puritanism because, while he believed it to be a necessary and important movement in the reformation of Christ’s Church, he also believed it to be flawed and imperfect. In order to defend this thesis, this essay will look at Rutherford’s published letters during four periods of his life: the reign of Charles I up to Parliament’s calling of the Westminster Assembly (1625-43), the Assembly years (1643-49), the Interregnum (1649-60), and the Restoration (1660-61).[7]

The Reign of Charles I Up to the Westminster Assembly (1625-43)

            Born in 1600 in Nisbet, Roxburghshire, in the southeast of Scotland, Rutherford was educated first at Jedborough, and then at Edinburgh University. He graduated MA in 1621. In 1627, he was licensed as a preacher and accepted a call to be the minister of the tiny village of Anwoth, located in the southwest of his native country. It is from here that Rutherford’s oldest surviving letters appear, many of which reveal his firm allegiance to the Puritan movement.             In a letter dated June 26, 1630, the Presbyterian divine described the growing tensions between prelates and those called Puritans:

We are in great fears of a great and fearful trial to come upon the kirk of God; for these, who would build their houses and nests upon the ashes of mourning Jerusalem, have drawn our King upon hard and dangerous conclusions against such as are termed Puritans, for the rooting of them out. Our prelates (the Lord take the keys of His house from these bastard porters!) assure us that, for such as will not conform, there is nothing but imprisonment and deprivation.[8]

The Court of High Commission erected in 1610 vested the prelates with powers of imprisoning and depriving Nonconformists. Rutherford himself fell subject to their power when the Court summoned him to appear in Edinburgh for his refusal to conform to the Perth Articles.[9] These tensions led him to describe the persecution of Puritanism with the analogy of “the spouse of Jesus” being “in the fire.”[10]

            During these early years of his ministry, Rutherford kept a concerned eye on the developments in England, that “country where the Sun of righteousness, in the Gospel, shineth not so clearly as in [Scotland].”[11] In a letter dated June 2, 1631, he expressed his discomfort with news that “the worthiest men in England are banished, and silenced, about the number of sixteen or seventeen choice Gospel preachers.”[12] He lamented that in England the persecution had already begun, and anticipated that it would soon be in Scotland. “I have received a letter from Edinburgh, certainly informing me that the English service, and the organs, and King James’ Psalms, are to be imposed upon our kirk; and that the bishops are dealing for a General Assembly.”[13] Less than two years later, the proverbial handwriting on the wall became increasingly clear to Rutherford. In a letter dated April 1, 1633, Rutherford said, “I am afraid now (as many others are) that, at the sitting down of our Parliament, our Lord Jesus and His spouse shall be roughly handled.”[14]

            Later that year, Charles I appointed the infamous William Laud to the highest ecclesiastical position in England (save the crown itself), the Archbishop of Canterbury. Unlike his predecessor, Archbishop George Abbot, who was in power from 1611 to 1633, Laud showed little tolerance for anyone with Puritan or Calvinistic convictions. A committed Arminian and high-churchman, Laud reverted to a more anti-Puritan policy like that of Archbishops Richard Bancroft (1604-1611) and John Whitgift (1583-1604), albeit more aggressively. Rutherford likened Laud’s increased pressure upon Puritanism and the church in Scotland to Smyrna’s ten days of tribulation mentioned in Revelation 2.10. Writing to Alexander Gordon of Earlston, Rutherford said, “These rumbling wheels of Scotland’s ten days of tribulation are under His look who hath seven eyes…Be not cast down for what the servants of Antichrist cast in your teeth, that ye are a head to and favourer of the Puritans.”[15]

            Rutherford soon found himself in personal conflict with Laud’s enforced policies. Having published a Latin treatise against Arminianism and the Jesuits, Exercitationes Apologeticae pro Divina Gratia (1636), as well as circulating writings in defense of the conventicles, he came under heavy scrutiny. In 1636, the High Commission again summoned him to appear, this time for a three-day trial culminating in his prosecution. “My newly printed book against Arminianism was one challenge,” wrote Rutherford, “not lording the prelates was another.”[16] The Scottish divine was deprived of his ministerial office, forbidden to preach anywhere in Scotland, and confined within the town of Aberdeen, which at that time was a bastion of Arminianism and deeply committed to episcopacy.

            The majority of Rutherford’s surviving letters date from the period of his banishment to Aberdeen. Rutherford scholar John Coffey notes that 219 of Rutherford’s surviving letters are from this chapter in his life, “two-thirds of the total.”[17] While most of these letters describe his personal afflictions under trial and reveal his pastoral advice to members of his congregation in Anwoth, they also show Rutherford’s allegiance to the Puritan movement. Indeed, he was not ashamed of the otherwise sneering title of ‘Puritan.’ In a letter to Robert Lennox of Disdove dated September 13, 1637, he said, “I assure you, howbeit we be nicknamed Puritans, that all the powers of the world shall not prevail against us.”[18]

            These letters often had a political tone. Writing to the Earl of Cassillis, Rutherford suggested that action be taken against the prelates, whom he identified as Antichrist:

Wo, wo to us, for our day flieth away! What remaineth, but that Antichrist set down his tent in the midst of us…They stole the keys from Christ and His church, and came in life the thief and the robber, not by the door, Christ; and now their song is, ‘Authority, authority! obedience to church-governors!’ When such a bastard and lawless pretended step-dame, as our Prelacy, is gone and mad, it is your place, who are the nobles, to rise and bind them. At least, law should fetter such wild bulls as they are, who push all who oppose themselves to their domination. Alas! what have we lost, since prelates were made master-coiners, to change our gold into brass, and to mix the Lord’s wine with water! Blessed for ever shall ye be of the Lord, if ye help Christ against the mighty, and shall deliver the flock of God, scattered upon the mountains in the dark and cloudy day, out of the hands of these idol-shepherds. Fear not men who shall be moth-eaten clay, that shall be rolled up in a chest, and casten under the earth: let the Holy One of Israel be your fear, and be courageous for the Lord and His truth.[19]

In other letters, the exiled Calvinist encouraged Scottish nobles to do all in their power to purge the Prelacy, which he called the “filthy nest” of Antichrist:

I am bold (and plead pardon for it) to speak in paper by a line or two to your Lordship…to go on, as ye have worthily begun, in purging of the Lord’s house in this land, and plucking down the sticks of Antichrist’s filthy nest, this wretched Prelacy, and that black kingdom whose wicked aims have ever been, and still are, to make this fat world the only compass they would have Chrsit and religion to sail by, and to mount up the Man of Sin, their godfather the Pope of Rome, upon the highest stair of Christ’s throne, and to make a velvet church (in regard of Parliament grandeur and worldly pomp, whereof always their stinking breath smelleth).[20]

Living in a time in which the kingdoms of God and man were not easily distinguished, Rutherford spoke of Britain as though it were in a national covenant with God:

God and man cannot but commend you to beg justice from a just prince for oppressed Christ, and to plead that Christ, who is the King’s Lord, may be heard in a free court to speak for Himself, when the standing and established laws of our nation can strongly plead for Christ’s crown in the pulpits, and His chair as Lawgiver in the free government of His own house. But Christ will never be content and pleased with this land, neither shall His hot, fiery indignation be turned away, so long as the prelate (the man that law in Antichrist’s foul womb, and the Antichrist’s lord-bailiff) shall sit lord-carver in the courts of Jesus. The prelate is both the egg and the nest to cleck and bring forth Popery. Plead, therefore, in Christ’s behalf, for the plucking down of the nest, and the crushing of the egg; and let Christ’s kingly office suffer no more unworthy indignities.[21]

            Whatever he understood regarding the relationship of Christ’s kingship to British politics, Rutherford did not write in vain. In response to the king’s attempt to impose a new service book on the Scottish church, the political and religious leaders in Scotland led a movement that culminated in the signing of the National Covenant in February 1638 and a renewed commitment to defend the Reformed faith. Later that year, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met in Glasgow and officially returned Presbyterianism to the land. Appointed professor of theology at St. Mary’s College in St. Andrews in 1639, Rutherford entered the era of high orthodoxy in a strategic position to further the cause of Puritanism.[22]

The Assembly Years (1643-49)[23] 

            Upon the alliance formed between Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters in 1643, Rutherford was sent to London as one of the Scottish commissioners to the Westminster Assembly.[24] In a letter to a fellow Scottish minister, dated October 20, 1643, he said, “I am now called for to England; the government of the Lord’s house in England and Ireland is to be handled.”[25] He arrived on November 17, 1643 and stayed until November 1647, longer than the rest of the Scots.

     Rutherford’s letters from this time reveal his frustration with a divided Protestantism plagued with error:

There is nothing here but divisions in the Church and Assembly; for besides Brownists and Independents (who, of all that differ from us, come nearest to walkers with God), there are many other sects here, of Anabaptists, Libertines who are for all opinions in religion, fleshly and abominable Antinomians, and Seekers, who are for no church-ordinance, but expect apostles to come and reform churches; and a world of others, all against the government of presbyteries.[26]

He lamented the fact that, since the early Reformation, Protestantism had not been freed from this schism and heterodoxy. “Luther observed, when he studied to reform, that two-and-thirty sundry sects arose; of all which I have named a part, except those called Seekers, who were not then arisen. He said, God should crush them, and that they should rise again: both which we see accomplished.”[27] English Puritanism had not solved this problem. The city of London seemed, to Rutherford, to be infested with every sect under the sun. “Multitudes of Anabaptists, Antinomians, Familists, Separatists, are here. The best of the people are of the Independent way. As for myself, I know no more if there be a sound Christian (setting aside some, yea, not a few learned, some zealous and faithful ministers whom I have met with) at London (though I doubt not but there are many), than if I were in Spain.”[28]

            Some of these divisions were present on the floor of the Westminster Assembly. While the Assembly sought to unify Protestantism in Britain and codify Reformed Orthodoxy in confessional standards, its members were not all of Presbyterian persuasion. Rutherford spoke in his correspondence of the disputes and contention between the Presbyterians and Independents, even those Independents whom he personally admired. “It pleaseth God, that sometimes enemies hinder the building of the Lord’s house; but now friends, even gracious men (so I conceive of them), do not a little hinder the work. Thomas Goodwin, Jeremiah Burroughs, and some others, four or five, who are for the Independent way, stand in our way, and are mighty opposites to presbyterial government.” This led Rutherford to despair of Puritanism’s ability to reform Christ’s church in England, which he believed was still plagued with the “remnants of Babylon’s pollutions.” While the Scottish Commissioner persisted faithfully in his work at the Assembly, he was no supporter of Independency, and was concerned that many were satisfied with what he considered to be “a half reformation” in England. [29]

            Other letters from this period note the ongoing political and military turmoil of the times. Rutherford expressed grief over the state of Parliament, which was not entirely sympathetic to Presbyterianism. “The House of Peers are rotten men, and hate our Commissioners and our cause both. The life that is is in the House of Commons, and many of them also have their religion to choose.”[30] Yet, he conveyed cautioned joy in the fact that Parliament’s army was far stronger than that of King Charles.[31]

            Rutherford not only contributed substantially to the theological deliberations of the Assembly, but also to the Shorter Catechism and to the Directory for the Publick Worship of God. He also preached occasionally before the Long Parliament, and wrote several books, including Lex Rex (1644), which was an argument for limitations on the divine right of kings and a defense of armed resistance against Charles I. It has been said that “nearly every member of the Westminster Assembly owned a copy of Lex Rex.[32]

The Interregnum (1649-60)

            Despite the execution of King Charles I in 1649, the 1650s were not a peaceful period for Rutherford and his Scotland. In reaction to the Covenanters’ refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the English Commonwealth, Oliver Cromwell invaded Scotland and crushed the Scottish army at Dunbar on September 3, 1650. This, wrote the Presbyterian churchman in a letter two days later, was an “unjust cause.” Cromwell, according to Rutherford, was guilty of “trampling the worship of God,” “persecuting the people of God in England and Ireland,” and “the blood of the people of God in Scotland.” [33] The Church of Scotland was soon divided into two warring factions who disagreed with each other on how to respond to this blow. On the one hand were the Resolutioners, who supported the Public Resolutions of December 1650, which called for the Scottish coronation of Charles II and the return of the supporters of Charles I to office. On the other hand were the Protestors, such as Rutherford, who protested these resolutions. The subsequent strife separated Rutherford from some of his closest friends, including David Dickson, Robert Baillie, and Robert Blair.

            For the St. Andrew’s professor, it seemed that the chickens of the “half reformation” had come home to roost. He often applied dark, eschatological language to Cromwell’s England. In a letter dated November 23, 1650, he said, “Yet a little while, and behold He cometh, and walketh in the greatness of His strength, and His garments dyed with blood. Oh, for the sad and terrible day of the Lord upon England, their ships of Tarshish, their fenced cities, etc., because of a broken covenant!”[34] In another letter, Rutherford proclaimed, “Behold, it shall come down upon England, and on the residue of His enemies in Scotland. Wo is me for England! That land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness; that pleasant land shall be a wilderness, and the dust of their land pitch; a judgment upon their walled towns, their pleasant fields, their strong ships, etc., if they do not repent.”[35] While Puritanism had rid the English church of episcopacy, it failed to produce a stable and orthodox Protestantism. 

            Though these were dark days for Rutherford, he continued faithfully in his vocation as principal of St. Mary’s College and rector of St. Andrew’s University, and continued to “bless the Lord for His good hand, who declares that His sovereign presence is alike in England and all places.”[36]

            Upon Cromwell’s death in 1658, the Republic quickly declined. Cromwell’s son, Richard, assumed his father’s role as Lord Protector, but abdicated the following year due to his deficient abilities as a leader. Parliament assumed authority of the nation and its army, but, with no Lord Protector and in fear of anarchy and disorder, it became clear to many in England that restoring the monarchy would be the country’s safest course.

The Restoration (1660-61)

            Under the leadership of General Monck, the old Rump Parliament was dissolved and a new Parliament, made up largely of Royalists and moderate Puritans, was elected. They invited the exiled Charles II to return. The exiled monarch published the Declaration of Breda in which he declared “a liberty for tender consciences and that no man shall be disquieted or called in question for differences of opinion in matters of religion which do not disturb the peace of the kingdom.”[37] On May 1, 1660, Parliament accepted this declaration. A few weeks later, on May 29, Charles II arrived in England as the nation’s restored king.

            Rutherford and his fellow Protestors were eventually proven correct in their assessment of Charles II. The restored king nullified the work of the Long Parliament by his Act of Rescissory of 1661, and soon began a violent persecution of Puritanism. Writing to James Guthrie, a minister at Stirling who, on June 1, 1661, was hanged at the cross of Edinburgh and whose head was subsequently cut off and fixed on the Nether Bow, Rutherford reminded his friend that persecution and martyrdom of the godly was an ordinary part of the Christian life, even if it came by the hand of an English monarch. With words reminiscent of Tertullian’s celebrated adage, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” the St. Andrew’s professor encouraged his pastor friend. “The Lord will make the innocency and Christian loyalty of His defamed and despised witnesses in this land to shine to after-generations.” [38] Indeed, under Charles II, Puritanism was defamed and despised. With the enforcement of the Clarendon Code, Puritanism was pushed out of the established church.[39] Ministers within the Church of England who sought a more thorough reformation of its practices, and who found themselves unable to accept what they regarded as Romanist characteristics of the Book of Common Prayer, were forced to make a hard decision: either conform and abandon their convictions about the church, or maintain their convictions and leave the church in protest and deprivation. Nearly two-thousand ministers chose the latter option and thus Puritanism was transformed into Non-conformity.

            Rutherford, however, did not live long enough to see all of the acts of the Clarendon Code enforced. He died in 1661. But his departure from this world did not come soon enough to provide him with an escape from all persecution. When the Monarchy was restored in 1660, Rutherford was a marked man, chiefly for his views published in his popular Lex Rex. This book was burned by the king’s orders, first at Edinburgh, and then, some days later, as Andrew Bonar put it, “under the windows of its author’s College in St. Andrew’s.”[40] He was deposed of all his offices, including his university chair, and deprived of his stipend. Moreover, the Committee of Estates summoned the professor to stand trial at Parliament on charges of high treason. Rutherford died, however, in March of 1661, before the tribunal was assembled.


            For Rutherford, English Puritanism was a good and necessary movement to reform Christ’s church, but it was also a flawed and imperfect movement that did not produce the intended results. Cromwell, with his army of “Malignants” and “Sectaries” had done more harm than good, as far as the Presbyterian divine was concerned. While England enjoyed a time of unprecedented toleration during the Interregnum years, Scotland was another story. For Rutherford, this was the tragic consequence of the “half reformation” with which he believed many in England were satisfied. In the end, the result, according to Rutherford, was the overthrow of the Reformation and the reintroduction of Popery in the three kingdoms (i.e. England, Scotland, and Ireland).[41] Nevertheless, he went to his grave with the confidence that the church is the possession of Christ, and that Christ is sovereign over all.

[1] C.V. Wedgwood, The King’s Peace (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 95.

[2] See, for example, William Shakespeare’s derogatory treatment of the term in his 1602 play, Twelfth Night (New York: Bantam, 1988), 2.3.I39-52. Likewise, King James I, in a letter to his son Charles, explicitly called Puritans “pests of the Church” possessed by “a fanatic spirit.” See Anonymous, A Puritane Set Forth in His Lively Colours (London: n.p., 1642), 2-3. Both of these quotes are found in Kapic, Kelly M. and Gleason, Randall C. [eds.]. The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004), 15.

[3] Carl Trueman, “Puritan Theology as Historical Event: A Linguistic Approach to the Ecumenical Context,” in Reformation and Scholasticism, Willem J. van Asselt and Eef Dekker [eds.] (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 253.

[4] Kendall criticizes the syllogistic reasoning of Beza, Ursinus, and later English Calvinists up to and including the Westminster Assembly, claiming that it was introspective, speculative, and ultimately made faith an act of man, located in the human will. Through their affirmation of a limited atonement, they became “crypto-Arminian” in their theology and made it almost impossible for one to be assured of saving faith apart from laborious good works. All of this, says Kendall, was a qualitative departure from Calvin and the early Reformation. See R.T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 3-4, 8-9, 33-34, 40-41, 56-57, 63, 69-74, 125, 148, 150, 179-81, 205-11. For more on this “Calvin v. the Calvinists” thesis, see also James B. Torrance, “The Concept of Federal Theology,” in Calvinus Sacrae Scripturae Professor, ed. William H. Neuser (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), “Covenant or Contract,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23/1 (February 1970); Basil Hall, “Calvin Against the Calvinists,” in G. E. Duffield, ed., John Calvin.  Courtenay Studies in Reformation Theology (Appleford: Sutton Gourtenay Press, 1966); B.A. Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy: Protestant Scholasticism and Humanism in Seventeenth-Century France (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969); Peter Toon, Puritans and Calvinism (Swengel: Reiner Publications, 1973).  

[5] See J.I. Packer’s introduction to his A Quest for Godliness (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 11-16. See also William Barker, Puritan Profiles (Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 1999); Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006); Joel R. Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Trust, 2004); Kelly M. Kapic and Randall C. Gleason [eds.], The Devoted Life (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004); D.M. Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1987); D.M. Lloyd-Jones and J.I. Packer [eds.], Puritan Papers, vols.1-5 (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2000-2005).

[6] Rising to defend post-Reformation scholasticism as the legitimate and faithful theological heirs of Calvin has been a growing number of historical theologians led primarily by Richard Muller. This school, sometimes dubbed the “Calvin and the Calvinists” school, has offered a positive reassessment of the internal developments of post-Reformation Reformed theology. See Richard Muller, “Calvin and the ‘Calvinists’: Assessing Continuities and Discontinuities Between the Reformation and Orthodoxy,” [parts one and two] Calvin Theological Journal, 30-31, 1995, 1996; Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, [four vols.] (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003); After Calvin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); Carl Trueman, The Claims of Truth (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998); John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007); Carl Trueman and R.S. Clark [eds.], Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1999); R.S. Clark, Casper Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant (Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 2005); Recovering the Reformed Confession (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2008); “Christ and Covenant: Federal Theology in Orthodoxy,” Companion to Reformed Orthodoxy; Paul Helm, Calvin and the Calvinists (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982); Michael Horton’s Ph.D. dissertation for Oxford University, “Thomas Goodwin the Puritan Doctrine of Assurance: Continuity and Discontinuity in the Reformed Tradition;” Joel Beeke’s Ph.D. dissertation for Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, “Personal Assurance of Faith: English Puritanism and the Dutch ‘Nadere Refomatie’ from Westminster to Alexander Comrie (1640-1760);” Lyle Bierma, German Calvinism in the Confessional Age (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996); “The Role of Covenant Theology in Early Reformed Orthodoxy,” Sixteenth Century Journal 21, 1990, 453-462.

[7] Rutherford’s letters were first published as Joshua Redivivus or Mr. Rutherfoord’s Letters in 1664, only three years after the Scotsman’s death. According to Robert McWard, the first editor of the letters, Rutherford never intended for them to be published. In fact, he “did violence to the desires of many in refusing to publish them.” The letters, nevertheless, saw publication and have since been in print in almost eighty editions in Britain and America, and translated into Gaelic, Dutch, German and French. See preface to Joshua Redivinus or Mr. Rutherfoord’s Letters (Rotterdam, 1664), as well as John Coffey’s chapter, “Letters by Samuel Rutherford” in Kelly M. Kapic and Randall C. Gleason [eds.], The Devoted Life (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004), 92-93.

[8] Samuel Rutherford, Letters of Samuel Rutherford (1664), ed. Andrew Bonar (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, repr.2006), Letter XI, 53. In this essay, all quotations from Rutherford’s letters are taken from the Banner of Truth 2006 edition. Both letter number and page number are cited.

[9] The Perth Articles were five articles adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1618 at the instigation of James I. The articles imposed on the Scottish church practices of the Church of England such as kneeling at the Lord’s Supper, episcopal confirmation, and keeping of feast days such as Christmas and Easter. In an effort to reform the Church of Scotland, the Glasgow Assembly of 1638 condemned the Perth Articles.

[10] Letters, XI, 53.

[11] Letters, V, 42. Rutherford made this reference about England in a letter to Lady Kenmure, dated Sep 14, 1629.

[12] Letters, XV, 60. In a subsequent letter, Rutherford mentioned his sorrow in regard to the imprisonment of Henry Burton, a divine of the Church of England, for his writing and preaching against the Arminians. See Letters, XVII, 64.

[13] Letters, XV, 60.

[14] Letters, XXVIII, 87.

[15] Letters, LIX, 134. This letter dates July 6, 1636. See also Letter XXXIV, 96, and Letter L, 121.

[16] Letters, LX, 135. “Lording” is a reference to calling the prelates “Lords.” At the beginning of the letter, Rutherford calls them “Christ’s forbidden lords.”

[17] Coffey, “Letters by Samuel Rutherford,” Ibid., 95. Coffey notes that Rutherford’s letters from this time “were copied and circulated among the godly.”

[18] Letters, CCLXII, 512.

[19] Letters, CCLXXVIII, 538-40. This letter dates from 1637.

[20] Letters, CCLXXXI, 543. This letter dates January 4, 1638, and was addressed to Earl Loudon, a Scottish noble who espoused the cause of the Second Reformation and took a leading role in the work of the Covenanters.

[21] Ibid., 544-45.

[22] Any evaluation of Puritanism should not only be set in its socio-historical context, but also in the context of what, in recent scholarship, has been called the era of Reformed Orthodoxy. According to Richard Muller, early orthodoxy runs from 1565 and the deaths of “many of the important second-generation codifiers of the Reformed faith (John Calvin, Wolfgang Musculus, Peter Martyr Vermigli, and Andreas Hyperius)” to 1640 and the deaths of “the theologians who sat at Dort and perpetuated its carefully outlined confessionalism…among them, Antonius Walaeus, Johann Polyander, Sibrandus Lubbertus, Franciscus Gomarus, Johannes Maccovius, John Davenant – together with writers like William Ames and J.H. Alstead.” High orthodoxy followed, which ran from 1640 to 1725. The first phase, 1640-1685, is characterized by “internal or intraconfessional controversies, such as the broader Amyraldian controversy and the debate over Cocceian federal theology as well as the vast expansion of debate with the Socinians over the doctrine of the Trinity.” Says Muller, “In this phase of the high orthodox period are found such authors as Johannes Cocceius, Samuel Maresius, Andreas  Essenius, Gibertus Voetius, Friedrich Spanheim the elder, Marcus Friedrich Wendelin, Franz Burman, Francis Turretin, Edward Leigh, Matthew Poole, John Owen, and Stephan Charnock.” After 1685, “the tenor of orthodoxy changed, although the confessional boundaries continued to remain relatively in place…The changes that took place included an increased pressure on the precritical textual, exegetical, and hermeneutical model of orthodoxy, an alteration of the philosophical model used by theologians from the older Christian Aristotelian approach to either a variant of the newer rationalism or a virtually a-philosophical version of dogmatics. This is also the era of the beginning of internal divisions in the Reformed confessions over the issues raised by the piety of the Second Reformation or Nadere Reformatie and by the dispossessed status of Reformed Protestants in England and France. By 1725, a fairly uniform and unified confessional subscription had faded both in England and in Switzerland.” See Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725, vol.1 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 30-32.

[23] While the last numbered Plenary Session of the Westminster Assembly was on February 22, 1649, the Assembly continued until March 25, 1652 as a committee to examine candidates for the ministry.

[24] On August 18, 1643, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland appointed this committee, which, beside Rutherford, consisted of Robert Baillie, Robert Douglas, George Gillespie, and Alexander Henderson. These ministers were commissioned to consult with the one hundred and twenty-one English Puritan divines, as well as thirty laymen, ten from the House of Lords and twenty from the House of Commons.

[25] Letters, CCCVII, 615.

[26] Letters, CCCVIII, 616-17. This is Rutherford’s earliest surviving letter from his time at the Assembly.

[27] Ibid., 617.

[28] Letters, CCCIX, 619.

[29] Ibid., 618.

[30] Ibid., 619.

[31] “The sorrows of a travailing woman are come on the land. Our army is lying about York, and have blocked up them of Newcastle, and six thousand Papists and Malignants, with Mr. Thomas Syderf, and some Scottish prelates; and if God deliver them in their hands (considering how strong the Parliament’s armies are, how many victories God hath given them since they entered into covenant with Him, and how weak the King is), it may be thought the land is near a deliverance. But I rather desire it than believe it.” Ibid., 619.

[32] Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 731. The other books Rutherford completed during the Assembly years include The Due Right of Presbyteries (a defense of Presbyterianism against Independency), The Divine Right of Church Government and Excommunication (a defense of the session’s and presbytery’s obligation to regulate corporate worship and church government), Survey of the Spiritual Antichrist (a polemic against antinomianism and the various sects mentioned above), and The Trial and Triumph of Faith (a collection of sermons on Christ’s saving work). 

[33] Letters, CCCXXIX, 651. Rutherford wrote this letter to “the worthy and much honored Colonel Gilbert Ker.” He called the Independents “Sectaries.”

[34] Letters, CCCXXXI, 655.

[35] Letters, CCCXXXIII, 659-60.

[36] Letters, CCCXLIII, 678.

[37] As found in J.R.H. Moorman, A History of the Church in England (London: A & C Black, 1986), 249.

[38] Letters, CCCLXII, 702. Rutherford wrote this letter on February 15, 1661, only three and a half months before Guthrie’s death.

[39] The “Clarendon Code” was the name for a series of four legal statutes drafted by Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon, and passed by an overwhelmingly Anglican Parliament. The first was the Corporation Act (1661), which excluded Non-Conformists from holding public office by requiring all municipal officials to be communicants in an Anglican church, subscribe a declaration that it was unlawful under any circumstances to take up arms against the king, and formally reject the Solemn League and Covenant. The second statute was the Act of Uniformity (1662), which required all ministers, under penalty of fines, imprisonment, and the forfeiture of their livings, to subscribe to everything in the Book of Common Prayer, renounce the Solemn League and Covenant, and be re-ordained if they had not received Episcopal ordination in the first place. All ministers were to fulfill these requirements by St. Bartholomew’s Day on August 24, 1662. The result was “The Great Ejection” with nearly 2000 ministers forced to resign their vocations and livings. The third statute was the Conventicle Act (1664), which made it illegal for five or more persons to gather at any religious assembly, conventicle, or meeting conducted in any other manner than what was prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer. The final statute was the Five-Mile Act (1665), which forbade all ministers who had not taken the oaths in the Act of Uniformity to come within five miles of the corporate town or parish where they had previously served.

[40] Andrew Bonar, “Sketch of Samuel Rutherford” as found in Letters, 20.

[41] See letter CCCLXIII in Letter, 703-4. It should be understood that not all is gloomy in Rutherford’s published letters. The vast majority of his extant correspondence is of a pastoral nature, and exhibits the Scotsman’s deep piety, confidence in the gospel, and hope in the age to come.

Not By Faith Alone: The Neonomianism of Richard Baxter


NOT BY FAITH ALONE: The Neonomianism of Richard Baxter (1615–91)

By Rev. Michael Brown

This article was published in the Puritan Reformed Journal 3, no.1, Jan 2011. Used by permission.


During its so-called Counter-Reformation of the mid-sixteenth century, Rome sharply criticized the Protestant doctrine of justification for being a teaching that inevitably led to antinomianism, that is, a belief that rejects the moral law of God as the rule of life for believers in the new covenant.[1] Understanding Protestants to teach that good works are an evidence but not the ground or instrument of one’s justification and that a sinner is justified “by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ” apart from all good works, Rome declared in its Council of Trent (1546) that anyone teaching such things was anathema.[2] Their concern was that such a doctrine would result in moral laxity. Protestants, on the other hand, insisted that Rome’s fears were unfounded. As they codified their doctrine in confessions and catechisms, they contended that it did not make Christians careless and profane, for, as the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) states, “it is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by true faith should not bring fruits of thankfulness.”[3]

Rome’s denouncement of the Protestant doctrine of justification continued into the seventeenth century, spearheaded by Catholic apologists such as the Jesuit Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621). Yet, Rome was not the only critic of this doctrine. Arminians, such as Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) and Socinians, such as Jonas Schlichtingius (1592–1661), opposed it as well.[4] For the heirs of Calvin, a defense of the Protestant doctrine of justification became significantly more complex than it had been for the early Reformers.[5] Moreover, there arose an internal challenge for the Reformed orthodox, particularly those in Britain, in the teachings of Richard Baxter (1615–91), a minister in Kidderminster, England, who sought to revise the Protestant doctrine of justification. 

In recent decades, scholars have assessed Baxter’s treatment of justification and come to different conclusions as to what Baxter taught. C. Fitzsimons Allison, for example, has argued that Baxter’s doctrine of justification is difficult to distinguish from that of the Council of Trent.[6] Hans Boersma, on the other hand, has sought to exonerate Baxter of these charges and claims that Allison makes “an unfair criticism, based on a misunderstanding of what Baxter actually taught.”[7] In his 1993 study, A Hot Pepper Corn: Richard Baxter’s Doctrine of Justification in Its Seventeenth-Century Context of Controversy, Boersma challenges Allison’s argument that Baxter substituted faith in place of Christ’s righteousness as the formal cause of justification.

Is Allison correct in his assessment of Baxter, or has he, as Boersma claims, made an unwarranted accusation about his teaching and unfairly painted him in Roman Catholic colors? The purpose of this paper is not to make or support any particular dogmatic construction concerning justification, whether Baxterian, Roman Catholic, antinomian, or that of the Reformed orthodox. Rather, it pursues the question of what Baxter believed with regard to the doctrine of justification in his historical context. It argues that Allison’s thesis holds up under Boersma’s criticism by showing that Baxter held a view of justification that was difficult to distinguish from that of the Council of Trent, and that he did so in order to safeguard against his perceived threat of antinomianism.[8]

In order to prove this thesis, this study makes three observations. First, it deals with Baxter’s perceived threat of antinomianism; second, it considers briefly Rome’s doctrine of justification; third, it examines Baxter’s doctrine of justification.

Baxter’s Perceived Threat of Antinomianism 

In the summer of 1645, during the struggle of the English Civil War, Baxter accepted an invitation to become a chaplain in the New Model Army of Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658).[9] While his military service amounted to a stint of less than two years (his health failed in February 1647), it proved to be formative for his theology, especially his doctrine of justification. He became deeply disturbed by the antinomianism he saw amongst the soldiers in Cromwell’s army. That antinomianism, according to E. F. Kevan, had as its main object the glory of Christ; “but, failing to understand the true relation between ‘law’ and ‘grace’, they extolled the latter at the expense of the former.”[10] For Baxter, antinomianism was more than a misunderstanding about the role of the law in the life of the believer; it amounted to a denial of the Gospel, “subverting the very substance of Christian religion…I think it fitter to call them Antigospellers, or Antichristian, or Libertines, than Antinomians.”[11] According to Baxter, antinomianism was rife in the New Model Army, its soldiers “falling in with Saltmarsh, [who said] that Christ hath repented and believed for us, and that we must no more question our faith and Repentance than Christ.”[12]

Baxter referred to John Saltmarsh (d.1647), a preacher, writer, and chaplain in General Fairfax’s army, who was accused of antinomianism[13] by the staunch Presbyterian leader of the Scottish delegation to the Westminster Assembly, Samuel Rutherford (1600–61).[14] In 1645, he published Free-Grace: or, the Flowings of Christs Blood Freely to Sinners, a book which Baxter believed was rapidly becoming popular in England yet was full of antinomian error.[15]

Saltmarsh’s views on justification, which Baxter considered to be antinomian, can be summarized in the following points. First, he held to a view of “eternal justification,” that is, the idea that the elect were not only elect in eternity, but also justified in Christ in eternity.[16] Chad Van Dixhoorn has rightly noted that the “idea of an eternal justification is the intellectual starting point for a number of key tenets of antinomianism.”[17] Second, the difference between the old and new covenants is that under the old a believer obtained salvation upon performing certain conditions, but in the new, such conditions are abrogated by virtue of the finished work of Christ.[18] Third, the new covenant is not, properly speaking, with the elect, but with Christ, who fulfilled the necessary conditions of the old covenant for the elect. The elect are in the new covenant in the sense that they are in Christ.[19] Fourth, while the law continues to command obedience in the new covenant, and still reveals sin in the life of the believer, it “cannot tax him with damnation,” for it has been fully satisfied by Christ.[20] “Christ hath believed perfectly, he hath repented perfectly, he hath sorrowed for sin perfectly, he hath obeyed perfectly…we are to believe that repentance true in him, who hath repented for us.”[21] Fifth, a justified person may fall back into sin, but this does not change the justified person’s status with God. While Christians should flee from sin and continually repent of it, such sin, though it “grieves the Spirit of God…cannot alter the love of God” toward the justified.[22]

Another writer charged with antinomianism by Rutherford and Baxter, as well as a petition sent to the House of Commons by the Westminster Assembly on August 10, 1643, was John Eaton (c.1575–1641).[23] From his posthumous and highly influential Honey-combe of Free Justification by Christ Alone (1642), it is clear that his views on justification were similar to those of Saltmarsh. There were some additional points he emphasized, which Baxter also found objectionable. First, believers are perfect and sinless in God’s sight by virtue of Christ’s perfect righteousness imputed to them, even though, as justified sinners, they still feel the imperfections of their sanctification throughout their lives.[24] This was similar to Luther’s dictum simul iustus et peccator (“at once righteous and a sinner”). Second, good works flow out and are the fruit of justification. It is therefore pointless to call people to good works without grounding them in justification. “If we call unto people for Sanctification, zeale and works, the fruits of the same, only with legal terrours, not putting under the fire of justification, we shall either but little move them, or else, with a constrained sanctity, make them worse hypocrites, twofold more the children of hell than they were before.”[25] Third, the double imputation of the elect’s sin to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to the elect meant that, upon the cross, Christ was “made a sinner.”[26] Likewise, the person in Christ is no longer “an idolater, a persecutor, a thief, a murderer, an adulterer, or a sinful person…you are all that he was, and he is all that you were.”[27]

A third writer accused of antinomianism, and perhaps the most well known in the seventeenth century, was Tobias Crisp (1600–43).[28] His collection of sermons, titled, Christ Alone Exalted, were reprinted in 1690 and sparked fierce debates. His views regarding justification were on many points similar to those of Saltmarsh and Eaton. Prominent in his thought are the following. First, Crisp firmly held to the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience to the believer. Believers are in Christ in such a way that God accounts them as being as perfectly obedient to the law as was Christ.[29] While this view was not distinct to so-called antinomian teaching (e.g. HC 60), it was nevertheless a view Baxter associated with antinomianism, as we shall see below. Second, due to his belief in eternal justification, Crisp believed that justification precedes faith. This seems to be a position he held out of his concern to guard faith from being construed as a condition of the new covenant or, more specifically, a work. [30] This point in particular allegedly earned him the acrimonious title from Baxter, “Jezebel.”[31] Third, sanctification, while inseparable from justification, is not guided by the law, but by Christ; he alone is the way to salvation. “There is never a School-Master in the World can teach the perfect Trade of walking Uprightly, but Christ alone.”[32] Crisp was adamant that the only effective way to motivate people to holiness is by preaching the grace and forgiveness freely given in Christ.[33]

It should be noted, however, that, whatever his views on justification, Crisp did in fact hold to the moral law as the Christian’s rule of life. He made this unequivocally clear in a sermon on John 8:36, “Christian Liberty no Licentious Doctrine.”[34] After emphasizing that the believer is righteous before God only by virtue of the alien righteousness of Christ and not by any inherent righteousness in the believer himself, Crisp went on to explain that this did not preclude the believer’s obligation to obedience to God’s commands:

But this doth not take away our Obedience, nor our Services in respect of those ends for which such Services are now required of Believers. We have yet several ends for Duties and Obedience; namely, that our Services may glorifie God, and evidence our thankfulness; and that they may be profitable to Men, that they may be Ordinances wherein to meet with God, to made good what he hath promised; so far we are called out to Services, and walking Uprightly, Sincerely, Exactly, and Strictly.[35]

 Good works, according to Crisp, bring glory to God and evidence one’s justification.

To combat antinomianism, Baxter wrote on the doctrine of justification. His first work, Aphorismes of Justification with Their Explication Annexed (1649), revealed a significant revision of the Protestant doctrine of justification. As Allison notes, this book “elicited a storm of protest, and Baxter found himself involved for the rest of his life in controversies about justification.”[36] As we will see below, Baxter modified his view of justification in order to refute antinomianism. Despite the controversies that resulted from his revisions, controversies primarily with the Reformed orthodox, he became convinced over time that his polemical writings on justification had successfully silenced antinomianism. By 1664, he concluded that this “Sect” had been extinct for many years.[37]

It was therefore much to his vexation to discover almost thirty years later that antinomianism was still alive and kicking. In 1690, the sermons of Tobias Crisp were reprinted by Crisp’s son Samuel, indicating a rising interest in the teachings Baxter had spent most of his life refuting. What is more is that the preface to the published sermons contained a rebuttal of Baxter’s view of imputation. This was enough to move the aging Baxter to attack Crisp’s views in a lecture given in the joint Presbyterian-Congregationalist lectures at Pinner’s Hall, and to continue writing on the subject, even up to his death.[38] In 1690 he published The Scripture Gospel defended, and Christ, Grace and Free Justification Vindicated Against the Libertines, Who use the names of Christ, Free Grace and Justification, to subvert the Gospel, and Christianity, etc., and in 1691 he published An End of Doctrinal Controversies Which have Lately Troubled the Churches by Reconciling Explication, without Much Disputing.[39]

Antinomianism, as J.I. Packer put it, would be “Baxter’s lifelong bogey…he attacked their positions as bound to prove libertine in effect. This was the whole point and purpose of his onslaught.”[40] Before examining Baxter’s view of justification, however, it is necessary for us to look at several features of Rome’s interpretation of the same doctrine.

Rome’s Doctrine of Justification

While it is beyond the scope of this essay to engage in a full-scale analysis of Rome’s doctrine of justification, we will focus briefly on three points within her doctrine as stated in the Council of Trent. The first is Rome’s denial of the imputed obedience of Christ as the ground of the believer’s justification. According to Trent, justification is not a one-time forensic act in which Christ’s obedience and righteousness is imputed to the believer (e.g. HC 60; BC 22; WCF 11.1; WLC 70-73), but a gradual process of moral change in the believer’s life, wrought by grace. This was a rejection of the sharp distinction Protestants made between justification and sanctification. Session 6, Chapter 7, states that justification “is not the remission of sins merely but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace and of the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just, and of an enemy a friend, that so he may be an heir according to the hope of life everlasting.”[41] Whereas the Reformed orthodox insisted that Christ’s righteousness is the formal cause of justification, Rome contended otherwise:

[T]he alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby he himself is just, but that whereby he maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we, being endowed by him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as he wills, and according to each one’s proper disposition and co-opertation.[42]

In other words, justification, for Rome is the Holy Spirit’s process of inward, moral renewal, since one is justified only if one is actually and truly just.

This ontological understanding of justification arose in large part from the distinction made by late medieval scholastic theologians between meritum de congruo and meritum de condigno. The former was a half-merit not truly deserving of God’s grace; it received grace proportionate to and congruent with a believer’s good works on the basis of divine generosity. The latter, on the other hand, was a full merit truly deserving of God’s grace. Connected to this was the Franciscan teaching that God’s covenant was facientibus quod in se est, Deus non denegat gratiam (“To those who do what is in them, God will not deny grace”).[43] The Reformers and their orthodox heirs, on the other hand, rejected the medieval notion of congruent merit and instead embraced a doctrine of imputed condign merit – merit which the first Adam failed to achieve but which the second Adam attained through his active obedience – to the sinner who received it through faith alone.[44]

Thus, for Rome, justification excluded the Protestant notion of the imputed obedience of Christ as the ground of justification. Righteousness is not imputed, but infused.  “Whence man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these [gifts] infused at once, faith hope, and charity.”[45]Session 6, Canon 11, made this even more clear:

If anyone saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favor of God: let him be anathema.[46]

Contrary to Protestant and Reformed orthodox thought, Rome’s denied the imputed obedience of Christ as the ground of the believer’s justification.

The second point we must consider in the Tridentine doctrine of justification is the matter of faith. Trent officially adopted the medieval understanding of faith taught clearly Thomas Aquinas (c.1224–74). Faith, for Aquinas, was first a habitus mentis, a habit of the mind, in which eternal life was begun, causing the intellect to assent to doctrinal truth.[47] To this “unformed faith,” however, must be added hope and love, that is, acts of obedience, which causes the faith to be fides formata, “formed faith.”[48] This was codified by Trent in Session 6, Canon 11, as quoted above, and in Canon 12, which declared: “If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified: let him be anathema.”[49] For Rome, saving faith was not, as the Reformed held, notitia (“knowledge”), assensus (“assent”), and fiducia (“trust”) in the Gospel (e.g. HC 21), but a faith that obeys. 

Rome viewed this obedience as possible for believers under the new covenant largely because of a distinction made by Aquinas between old law (lex vetus) and new law (lex nova). Under the new covenant and new law, which was inaugurated by Christ, more grace is available to the believer was previously available under the old covenant and old law. [50] It is important to understand that, for Rome, this obedience under the new covenant was not, as the Reformed had claimed, merely the fruit of justification, but actually part of the cause and increase of justification. “If anyone saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof: let him be anathema.”[51]

Lastly, we must note that Rome formulated, at least implicitly, a type of “final justification” in Trent. In Session 6, Chapter 10, Trent declared that justification advances “from virtue to virtue…through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with works” so that there is a gradual “increase in that justice which [believers] have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified.”[52] In other words, complete justification is never attained in this life by a believer; it only comes at the conclusion of a lifetime of obedience and good works. 

 Having considered briefly Rome’s doctrine of justification, we are now prepared to look more closely at Baxter’s.

Baxter’s Doctrine of Justification

 Baxter’s treatment of justification was vast and his works on the subject spanned more than four decades.[53] As Packer has noted, “it was here [i.e. the doctrine of justification] that he supposed himself to be making his most valuable contribution to theology.”[54] While a comprehensive study of Baxter’s doctrine of justification is beyond the scope of this paper, we will, for the purpose of defending our thesis, examine four aspects of his doctrine of justification.

The first is Baxter’s denial of the imputed obedience of Christ as the ground of justification. He admitted that for about ten years, he rejected the belief commonly held amongst the Reformed orthodox that both the active and passive obedience of Christ were imputed to the believer in favor of a view that held only Christ’s passive obedience to be imputed.[55] This was a position similar to that of William Twisse (1578–1646) Thomas Gataker (1574–1654).[56] After ten years, however, Baxter embraced a different view of imputation, one which adapted the legal views of Hugo Grotius and essentially made the traditional distinctions of Christ’s active and passive obedience unnecessary.[57] Grotius outlined this view in his 1617 treatise, A Defence of the Catholic Faith concerning the Satisfaction of Christ against Faustus Socinus, in which he borrowed from Roman law a distinction between identical satisfaction (solutio eiusdem) and equivalent satisfaction (solutio tantidem) in order to combat the Socinian objection that the Protestant doctrine of a vicarious atonement makes salvation a matter of right and justice rather than forgiveness and mercy.[58] Grotius, and subsequently Baxter, held the position that Christ’s death was not an identical satisfaction for sins, but an equivalent one.

According to Packer, Baxter’s study of Saltmarsh “revolutionized his own thought; for he began to see that Saltmarsh’s gospel was an inescapable deduction from two doctrines he held himself – limited atonement and justification before faith.”[59] Adapting the Grotian position allowed Baxter to thwart the antinomian teaching of eternal justification. Carl Trueman offers this helpful summary of how this played out in Baxter’s thought:

[T]he Grotian distinction in this regard allows Baxter to avoid what he sees as the implication of eternal justification which the solutio eiusdem concept implies: if the actual sins of a particular sinner are really imputed to Christ and punished on the cross, then that sinner is, from that moment onwards, really justified, regardless of when they come to exercise faith. In other words, for Baxter the problem with Reformed Orthodox views of imputation is not simply that what is imputed to the believer subverts the need for good works; it is also that what is imputed to Christ subverts the need for good works as well.[60]

Thus, Baxter, in his effort to refute antinomianism, rejected the Reformed orthodox teaching of double imputation, that is, the great exchange between the sins of the elect and the obedience of Christ by imputation (cf. HC 60; BC 22-23; WCF 11; WLC 70-73). “Take heed of the Errors of the Antinomians,” warned Baxter, “[errors which teach] that Christ’s satisfaction is ours…before the Application.”[61]

What then, for Baxter, was the ground of justification if it was not the imputed obedience of Christ? He held that Christ’s righteousness caused a change in the demands of the law. Packer observes that the difference between orthodox Calvinism and Baxter has to with the law of God and how it is satisfied in Christ for the believer. “Where orthodox Calvinism taught that Christ satisfied the law in the sinner’s place, Baxter held that Christ satisfied the Lawgiver and so procured a change in the law. Here Baxter aligns himself with Arminian thought rather than with orthodox Calvinism.”[62]

Yet, on this point, Baxter also appears to have aligned himself to some degree with Roman Catholic thought. Not only did he, like Rome, reject the imputation of Christ’s obedience as the ground of justification, but he also seems to have suggested a scheme similar to Rome’s old law/new law distinction: Christ’s work makes the terms of the new covenant more lenient than the old, procuring a change in the law that makes obedience possible.

This leads us to the second point we must consider in Baxter’s doctrine of justification, namely, his notion of a twofold righteousness. “[A]s there are two Covenants, with their distinct Conditions: so there is a twofold Righteousness, and both of them absolutely necessary to Salvation.”[63] The first of these two is what he called legal righteousness, that is, the righteousness earned under the law of works. This righteousness is not personal to the believer, “for we never fulfilled, nor personally satisfied the law,” but is “wholly without us in Christ.”[64] He claimed this to be the type of righteousness of which Paul spoke in Philippians 3, juxtaposing it to the righteousness that comes by faith in Christ.

The second type of righteousness, however, is evangelical righteousness, which, according to Baxter, does belong to the believer, and consists of the believer’s faith. Says Baxter, “faith is imputed for Righteousness…because it is an Act of Obedience to God…it is the performance of the Condition of the Justifying Covenant.”[65] Allison seems correct in his charge that “Justifying faith, for Baxter, is that which is imputed and reckoned for righteousness as a condition of the new covenant.”[66] Packer does not contest this point; he fully recognizes that, for Baxter, a believer’s faith “constitutes him righteous. This is evangelical righteousness.”[67] He clearly believed that one’s faith, rather than the active and passive obedience of Christ, is the ground of and condition for one’s justification. As Allison summarizes,

Baxter takes the position that Christ himself fulfilled the conditions of the old covenant, and thereby purchased for us easier terms within the new covenant. On account of Christ’s righteousness, our own righteousness (faith and repentance) is accounted, or imputed, as acceptable righteousness. We are, in other words, justified by our own righteousness on account of the righteousness of Christ.[68]

In other words, Christ’s righteousness makes justification by a believer’s righteousness (i.e. his faith) possible.

That the Reformed orthodox found this formulation upsetting comes as no surprise, for their confessional standards taught the very opposite about faith, namely, that it was not the ground of justification, but the instrument (i.e. HC 60-61; BC 22; WCF 11.1-2; WLC 70-73). Yet, what they found even more provocative in Baxter’s position was his insistence that justifying faith contained works, which is the third point we must consider in Baxter’s doctrine of justification.

For Baxter, faith itself is not the sole ground of a believer’s justification; rather, faith must be joined to works. “Both justifie in the same kinde of causality, viz. as Causae sine quibus non…Faith as the principal part; Obedience as the less principall. The like may be said of Love, which at least is a secondary part of the Condition.”[69] The evangelical righteousness of which Baxter spoke, that is, the righteousness apart from which one cannot be justified, contained the believer’s obedience. Boersma does not dispute this point in Baxter’s thinking. He fully concedes that Baxter made evangelical obedience “a secondary part of the condition of the continuation of justification.”[70] Using the analogy of a insignificant amount of rent paid by a tenant, rent costing only a “pepper corn,” Baxter said this is what the believer’s obedience contributes to salvation.[71] Said Baxter:

A Tenant forfeiteth his Lease to his Landlord, by not paying his rent; he runs deep in debt to him, and is disabled to pay him any more rent for the future, whereupon he is put out of his house, and cast him into prison till he pay his debt. His Landlord’s son payeth it for him, taketh him out of prison, and putteth him in his house again, as his Tenant, having purchased house and all to himself; he maketh him a new Lease in this Tenor, that paying but a pepper corn yearly to him, he shall be acquit both from his debt, and from all other rent from the future, which by his old lease was to be paid; yet doth he not cancel the old Lease, but keepeth it in his hands to put in suite against the Tenant, if he should be so foolish as to deny the payment of the pepper corn. In this case the payment of the grain of pepper is imputed to the Tenant, as if he had paid the rent of the old Lease: Yet this imputation doth not extoll the pepper corn, nor vilifie the benefit of his Benefactor, who redeemed him: nor can it be said that the purchase did only serve to advance the value and efficacy of that grain of pepper. But thus; a personall rent must be paid for the testification of his homage.[72]

In other words, Christ, like the landlord’s son in this analogy, has paid the cost (the lease) of what the sinner (the tenant) owed God (the landlord). The new covenant is like a new lease which only demands a small payment (a peppercorn), namely, obedient faith.[73] For Baxter, a denial of this pepper corn of obedience contributed to salvation made one an antinomian. “The ignorant Antinomians think, it cannot be a Free Act of Grace, if there be any Condition on our part for enjoying it. As if…the Tenants redemption were the less free because his new Lease requires the Rent of a pepper corn in token of homage!”[74]

The similarities of this point of Baxter’s to Rome’s doctrine are obvious. Whereas Trent requires obedience for justification, so too does Baxter, a point not lost on the Reformed orthodox. John Owen (1616–83), for example, responded to Baxter in his 1677 treatise on justification, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith though the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated. While Owen wrote this treatise primarily against “the two grand parties by whom the doctrine of justification by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ is opposed; - namely the Papists and the Socinians,” he also aimed his guns at neonomians such as Johannes Piscator (1546-1625), Gataker, and Baxter, to whom he clearly refers as the “many interlopers, who, coming in on their hand, do make bold to borrow from both as they see occasion.”[75] Preceding Owen was Samuel Petto (c.1624–1711), who, in his 1674 treatise on covenant theology, The Difference Between the Old and New Covenant, refuted Baxter’s analogy of a “peppercorn” payment of rent: “We claim Salvation not in the right of any act of ours, not upon the Rent of Faith (as men hold Tenements by the payment of a Penny, a Rose, or such like) no such thing here; all is paid to the utmost Farthing by our Surety, and we hold and claim upon the obedience of Jesus Christ alone.”[76] For the Reformed orthodox, faith is a gift that bestows a title upon the believer because of the obedience of Christ alone.

Lastly, we must briefly consider Baxter’s view of “final justification.” For the pastor from Kidderminster, continuance of justification depends not on faith alone, but also upon the believer’s personal faithfulness and covenant-keeping:[77]

In our first Believing we take Christ in the Relation of a Saviour, and Teacher, and Lord, to save us from all sin, and to lead us to glory. This therefore importeth that we accordingly submit unto him, in those his Relations, as a necessary means to the obtaining of the benefits of the Relations. Our first faith is our Contract with Christ…And all Contracts of such nature, do impose a necessity of performing what we consent to and promise, in order to the benefits…And in humane contracts it is so. Barely to take a Prince for her husband may entitle a woman to his honours and lands; But conjugal fidelity is also necessary for the continuance of them; for Adultery would cause a divorce…Covenant-making may admit you, but its the Covenant-keeping that must continue you in your priviledges.[78]

In other words, a believer enters the salvific relationship with God by faith, but must remain in that relationship by his (the believer’s) faithfulness. Notice what Baxter says: “Our first faith is our Contract with Christ,” but, as in human contracts, in order to obtain the benefits of that contract, we must perform “what we consent to and promise.” Christ may be our faithful Husband, but we must be his faithful bride if want to continue in the privileges of salvation and reach final justification. “Faith, Repentance, Love, Thankfulness, sincere Obedience, together with finall Perseverance, do make up the Condition of our final Absolution in Iudgement, and our eternal Glorification.”[79]

In one of his most lucid statements on this point, Baxter said:

And that the Law of Grace being that which we are to be judged by, we shall at the last Judgment also be judged (and so justified) thus far by or according to our sincere Love, Obedience, or Evangelical Works, as the Conditions of the Law or Covenant of free Grace, which justifieth and glorifieth freely in all that are thus Evangelically qualified, by and for the Merits, perfect Righteousness and Sacrifice of Christ, which procured the Covenant or free Gift of Universal Conditional Justification and Adoption, before and without any Works or Conditions done by Man Whatsoever. Reader forgive me this troublesome oft repeating of the state of the controversy; I meddle with no other. If this be Justification by Works, I am for it.[80]

In other words, the “perfect righteousness and sacrifice of Christ” secured more lenient terms for believers than previously enjoyed under the old covenant so that a believer’s faith (which must include “sincere love, obedience, or evangelical works”) is imputed for righteousness “as the condition of the law.”

Because Baxter’s construction of justification bore striking similarities to the Roman Catholic position that Christ obeyed the law in order to make it possible for sinners to cooperate with grace toward future justification, it elicited intense responses from Reformed orthodox writers. John Owen, for example, wrote in 1677 The Doctrine of Justification by Faith through the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ. In it he lamented, “In my judgment Luther spake the truth when he said, ‘Amisso articulo justificationis, simul amissa est tota doctrina Christiana.’ And I wish he had not been a true prophet, when he foretold that in the following ages the doctrine hereof would be again obscured.”[81]


Whether or not we agree with Baxter’s view of justification, we must conclude that, at least in three aspects, namely, a denial of the imputation of Christ’s obedience as the ground of justification, a faith that obeys as the ground of righteousness, and final justification, it is, as Allison rightly pointed out, “difficult to distinguish…from that of the Council of Trent.”[82] Baxter’s views on justification accurately earn him the title, “neonomian,” for they restate the gospel as merely a “new law.”


Primary Sources

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 ________.  Of Justification: Four Disputations Clearing and amicably Defending the Truth, against the unnecessary Oppositions of divers Learned and Reverend Brethren. London, 1658.

 ________.  A Treatise of Justifying Righteousness, In Two Books. London, 1676.

 ________. An End of Doctrinal Controversies Which have Lately Troubled the Churches by Reconciling Explication, without Much Disputing. London, 1691.

 ________. Reliquiae Baxterianae: Or, Mr. Richard Baxter’s Narrative of The most Memorable Passages of His Life and Times. London, 1696.

 ________. Richard. Baxters Apology Against the Modest Exceptions of Mr. Thomas Blake. London, 1654.

 ________. Rich: Baxter’s Confession [sic] of his Fatih, Especially concerning the Interest of Repentance and sincere Obedience to Christ, in our Justification & Salvation. Written for the satisfaction of the misinformed, the conviction of Calumniators, and the Explication and Vindication of some weighty Truths. London, 1655.

 Crisp, Tobias. Christ Alone Exalted: Being the Compleat Works of Tobias Crisp, D.D. containing XLII. Sermons. London, 1690.

 ________. Christ Made Sin: II Cor.V.xxi. Evinc’t from Scripture, Upon Occasion of An Exception taken at Pinners-Hall, 28 January, 1689, At Re-printing the Sermons of Dr. Tobias Crisp. London, 1691.

 Owen, John. The Doctrine of Justification by Faith though the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated (1677), in The Works of John Owen, vol. V. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, repr.1998.

 Petto, Samuel. The Difference Between the Old and New Covenant Stated and Explained: With an Exposition of the Covenant of Grace in the Principal Concernments of It. London, 1674.

Rutherford, Samuel. A Survey of the Spirituall Antichrist, Part I and Part II. London, 1648.

 __________. Letters of Samuel Rutherford (1664), ed. Andrew Bonar. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, repr.2006. 

Saltmarsh, John. A peace but no pacification, or, An answer to that new designe of the oath of pacification and accommodation lately printed a subject for all that love true peace and liberty to consider. London, 1643.

________. Free-Grace: or, the Flowings of Christs Blood freely to Sinners. London, 1645.

Williams, Daniel. Gospel-Truth Stated and Vindicated, Wherein some of Dr. Crisp’s Opinions Are Considered; And The Opposite Truths Are Plainly Stated and Confirmed. London, 1692.

Witsius, Herman. Conciliatory, Or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain Under the Unhappy Names of Antinomians and Neonomians (1696), trans. Thomas Bell. Glasgow, 1807.

________. The Economy of the Covenants Between God & Man (1677). Kingsburg: den Dulk Christian Foundation, repr. 1990.

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Boersma, Hans.  A Hot Pepper Corn: Richard Baxter’s Doctrine of Justification in Its Seventeenth-Century Context of Controversy. Zoetermeer: Uitgevererij Boekencentrum, 1993.

Clark, R. Scott. “Do This and Live: Christ’s Active Obedience as the Ground of Justification,” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry; Essays By the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California, R. Scott Clark, ed. Phillipsburg: P & R, 2007.

________ . “How We Got Here: The Roots of the Current Controversy over Justification,” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry; Essays By the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California, R. Scott Clark, ed. Phillipsburg: P & R, 2007.

________. “Letter and Spirit: Law and Gospel in Reformed Preaching,” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry; Essays By the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California, R. Scott Clark, ed. Phillipsburg: P & R, 2007.

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

Fesko, J.V. Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine. Philipsburg: P & R, 2008.

Kevan, E.F. The Grace of Law: A Study of Puritan Theology. 1964, repr. Ligonier: Soli Deo Gloria, 1993.

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________. Christ and the Decree: Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins. 1986, Grand Rapids: Baker, rep.2008.

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Packer, J.I. The Redemption & Restoration of Man in the Thought of Richard Baxter. Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2003.

Ramsey, D. Patrick. “Meet Me in the Middle: Herman Witsius and the English Dissenters.” Mid-America Journal of Theology 19 (2008), 143-64.

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Trueman, Carl R. “A Small Step Towards Rationalism: The Impact of the Metaphysics of Tommaso Campanella on the Theology of Richard Baxter,” in Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment. Trueman and R. Scott Clark, eds. Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1999.

________. The Claims of Truth. Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998.

________. John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man. Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007.

________. “Richard Baxter on Christian Unity: A Chapter in the Enlightening of English Reformed Orthodoxy,” Westminster Theological Journal 61 (1999), 53-71.

Van Dixhoorn, Chad. “Reforming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westminster Assembly 1643-1652,” 7 vols. PhD. dissertation. University of Cambridge, 2004.

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Wedgwood, C.V. The King’s War 1641–1647. New York: MacMillan, 1959.

[1] From the Greek anti (“against”) and nomos (“law”).

[2] Council of Trent, session 6, canon 24, as quoted in Philip Schaff, ed., The Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols. (1931, Grand Rapids: Baker, repr.1998), 2:115. See also canon 11 in Schaff, 2:112-13.

[3] HC Q.64.

[4] See John Owen’s arguments against these thinkers in his The Doctrine of Justification by Faith though the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated (1677), in The Works of John Owen, vol. 5 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, repr.1998), 5:183ff.

[5] On Reformed orthodoxy, see Richard Muller, After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); idem, Christ and the Decree: Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins (1986, Grand Rapids: Baker, rep.2008); idem, Post-Reformation Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003).

[6] See C.F. Allison, The Rise of Moralism: The Proclamation of the Gospel from Hooker to Baxter (London: SPCK, 1966), 154–77, esp.163.

[7] See Hans Boersma, A Hot Pepper Corn: Richard Baxter’s Doctrine of Justification in Its Seventeenth-Century Context of Controversy (Zoetermeer: Uitgevererij Boekencentrum, 1993); 15-16.

[8] R. Scott Clark briefly makes this same point in a footnote in his, “How We Got Here: The Roots of the Current Controversy over Justification,” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry; Essays By the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California, R. Scott Clark, ed. (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2007), 15n27.

[9] See Boersma, A Hot Peppercorn, 31; and Watts, Dissenters, 106-11. On the English Civil War, see C.V. Wedgwood, The King’s War 1641–1647 (New York: MacMillan, 1959).  

[10] E.F. Kevan, The Grace of Law: A Study of Puritan Theology (1964, repr. Ligonier: Soli Deo Gloria, 1993), 24.

[11] Richard Baxter, “Rich. Baxter’s Admonition to Mr William Eyre of Salisbury,”in Richard. Baxters Apology Against the Modest Exceptions of Mr. Thomas Blake (London, 1654), 6. See also Packer, Redemption, 352.

[12] Richard Baxter, A Treatise of Justifying Righteousness, (London, 1676), 1:22. See also his Boersma, A Hot Peppercorn, 32-33, 68-69; Watts, Dissenters, 109-10, 293-4; Allison, Rise of Moralism, 155-6; Carl Trueman, John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007), 106-7, 11; J.I. Packer, The Redemption & Restoration of Man in the Thought of Richard Baxter (Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2003), 202-8.  

[13] On Saltmarsh, see H.C.G. Matthew, Brian Howard Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: From the Earliest Times to the Year 2000 (Oxford: OUP, 2004), 770; Watts, Dissenters, 110, 112, 122, 181-83, 192; Boersma, A Hot Peppercorn, 26, 68-69, 119, 214; Kevan, The Grace of Law, 28; Packer, Redemption, 27, 202-5, 248-56, 274, 352-61; Allison, Rise of Moralism, 170-1.

[14] Samuel Rutherford, A Survey of the Spirituall Antichrist, Part I and Part II (London, 1648); 1:193. On Rutherford’s life and theology, see his Joshua Redivinus or Mr. Rutherfoord’s Letters (Rotterdam, 1664), reprinted as Letters of Samuel Rutherford (1664), ed. Andrew Bonar (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, repr.2006); and John Coffey, Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions: The Mind of Samuel Rutherford (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

[15] See Richard Baxter, Rich: Baxter’s Confession [sic] of his Fatih, Especially concerning the Interest of Repentance and sincere Obedience to Christ, in our Justification & Salvation (London, 1655), preface.

[16] John Saltmarsh, Free-Grace: or, the Flowings of Christs Blood Freely to Sinners (London, 1645), 125.

[17] Chad Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westminster Assembly 1643-1652,” 7 vols. PhD. dissertation (University of Cambridge, 2004), 1:277.

[18] Saltmarsh, Free-Grace, 142-45.

[19] Saltmarsh, Free-Grace,161-3.

[20] Saltmarsh, Free-Grace, 143.

[21] Saltmarsh, Free-Grace, 84.

[22] Saltmarsh, Free-Grace, 145. Cf. 76.

[23] On John Eaton, see Watts, Dissenters, 180; Boersma, A Hot Peppercorn, 68; Kevan, The Grace of Law, 25-27; Packer, Redemption, 248-56, 352-63; Allison, Rise of Moralism, 169-70.

[24] John Eaton, Honey-Combe of Free Justification (London, 1642), 87. 

[25] Eaton, Honey-combe, 476.

[26] Eaton, Honey-combe, 363.

[27] Eaton, Honey-combe, 273.

[28] On Tobias Crisp see Watts, Dissenters, 180-1, 293-5; Boersma, A Hot Peppercorn, 61-68, 214, 238, 255, 303, 329; Kevan, The Grace of Law, 25-27; Packer, Redemption, 248-50, 352-61, 409-13; Allison, Rise of Moralism, 171-2; Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, eds., Meet the Puritans (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 164-68.

[29] See his sermon on Isaiah 53:6, “Sin Transacted Really Upon Christ” in Christ Alone Exalted, 178-310.

[30] See his sermon on Isaiah 42:6-7, “The New Covenant of Free Grace,” in Christ Alone Exalted, 74-92.

[31] As reported by Crisp’s son, Samuel, in the Preface to Tobias Crisp, Christ Made Sin (London, 1691).

[32] Christ Alone Exalted, 49. From his sermon on John 14:6, “Christ the Onely Way,” in Christ Alone Exalted, 14-58.

[33] See his sermon on Isaiah 43:25, “God Remembers Not Our Sins” in Christ Alone Exalted, 159-74.

[34] Christ Alone Exalted: Being the Compleat Works of Tobias Crisp, D.D. containing XLII. Sermons (London, 1690), 110-28.

[35] Christ Alone Exalted, 125-6. See also Crisp’s sermon on Isaiah 41:10, titled, “God’s Covenant with His People, The Ground of their Security,” in Christ Alone Exalted, 526-47.

[36] Allison, Rise of Moralism, 154.

[37] Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae: Or, Mr. Richard Baxter’s Narrative of The most Memorable Passages of His Life and Times (London, 1696), 1:111.

[38] Baxter was not the only one involved in refuting antinomianism. Daniel Williams (c.1643–1715/6) took up Baxter’s mantle and wrote Gospel-Truth Stated and Vindicated, Wherein some of Dr. Crisp’s Opinions Are Considered; And The Opposite Truths Are Plainly Stated and Confirmed (London, 1692). Williams was opposed by Isaac Chauncey (1632–1712), who published, Neonomianism Unmask'd: Or, The Ancient Gospel Pleaded, Against the Other, Called a New Law Or Gospel (1692) in which he defended Crisp’s views. The debates between Williams and Chauncey led to some division between English Presbyterians and Congregationalists who had, for years, met at Pinners Hall for joint lectures and, since March of 1691, participated in the so-called Happy Union. Things turned unhappy, however, when Williams was ousted and a rival lectureship at Salter’s Hall was formed by disgruntled Presbyterians. These events led the divided Nonconformists to ask the Dutchman Herman Witsius (1636–1708) to mediate between the parties. Witsius agreed and subsequently produced his Conciliatory, or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, under the unhappy names of Antinomians and Neonomians (1696). For more on this, see Watts, Dissenters, 290-7; and D. Patrick Ramsey, “Meet Me in the Middle: Herman Witsius and the English Dissenters.” Mid-America Journal of Theology 19 (2008), 143-64.

[39] The title page of Scripture Gospel defended, notes the “sudden reviving of Antinomianism, which seemed almost extinct near Thirty four years.”

[40] Packer, Redemption, 351-2.

[41] Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 7, as quoted in Schaff, 2:94.

[42] Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 7, as quoted in Schaaf, 2:95.

[43] See Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 113, 191-2; Clark, “How We Got Here,” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, 12-13; and Fesko, Justification, 17-18. 

[44] See, for example, Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God & Man (1677) (Kingsburg: den Dulk Christian Foundation, repr. 1990), 1:90-92.

[45] Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 7, as quoted in Scaff, 2:96.

[46] Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon11, as quoted in Schaff, 2:112-13. 

[47] See Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (Westminster: Christian Classics, 1989), II-II Q,4.1. See also W. Robert Godfrey, “Faith Formed by Love or Faith Alone?” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, 269-70.

[48] See Aquinas, Summa, I-II Q. 4.4.

[49] Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon12, as quoted in Schaff, 2:113.

[50] See Aquinas, Summa, I-II Q. 112.1; II-II Q.4.3. See Clark’s summary of Aquinas’ position and influence upon later Roman Catholic thought in “Letter and Spirit: Law and Gospel in Reformed Preaching,” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, 336-37.

[51] Session 6, Canon 24, as quoted in Schaff, 2:115.

[52] Session 6, Chapter 10, as quoted in Schaff, 2:99.

[53] Some of his most important works on justification from which we gain a clear picture of what he believed are: Aphorismes of Justification (London, 1649), Rich: Baxter’s Confession [sic] of his Faith, Especially concerning the Interest of Repentance and sincere Obedience to Christ, in our Justification & Salvation. Written for the satisfaction of the misinformed, the conviction of Calumniators, and the Explication and Vindication of some weighty Truths (London, 1655); Of Justification: Four Disputations Clearing and amicably Defending the Truth, against the unnecessary Oppositions of divers Learned and Reverend Brethren (London, 1658), A Treatise of Justifying Righteousness, In Two Books (London, 1676), and An End of Doctrinal Controversies Which have Lately Troubled the Churches by Reconciling Explication, without Much Disputing (London, 1691).

[54] Packer, Redemption, 241. For a fuller treatment of Baxter’s doctrine of justification, see Boersma’s dissertation, A Hot Pepper Corn, and Chapter 10 of Packer’s Redemption, 241-69.

[55] Baxter, Aphorismes, 44-54.

[56] See Baxter, Aphorismes, 44-52. On the views of Twisse and Gataker, see Chad Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westminster Assembly 1643-1652,” (PhD dissertation, University of Cambridge, 2004) 7 vols, vol 1, 324-330.

[57] Baxter, Aphorismes, 54.

[58] Hugo Grotius, A Defence of the Catholic Faith concerning the Satisfaction of Christ against Faustus Socinus (1617), trans. by Frank Hugh Foster (Warren F. Draper, 1889), 3:319-20. For an excellent summary of Baxter’s adaption of Grotius’ view, see Carl Trueman, The Claims of Truth The Claims of Truth (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998), 210-11; and idem, John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007), 106-7.

[59] Packer, Redemption, 204.

[60] Trueman, John Owen, 107.

[61] Baxter, Apology, 13.

[62] Packer, Redemption, 262.

[63] Baxter, Aphorismes, 102.

[64] Baxter, Aphorismes, 103.

[65] Baxter, Treatise, 178.

[66] Allison, Rise of Moralism, 156.

[67] See Packer, Redemption, 258.

[68] Allison, Rise of Moralism, 156-7.

[69] Baxter, Aphorismes, 290. See also his Confession, 297, and his Of Justification, 220.

[70] Boersma, A Hot Peppercorn, 167.

[71] Baxter, Aphorismes, 110; Boersma, A Hot Peppercorn, 24.

[72] Baxter, Aphorismes, 83-84.

[73] See Samuel Petto’s (c.1624–1711) rebuttal of this very point in his The Difference Between the Old and New Covenant Stated and Explained: With an Exposition of the Covenant of Grace in the Principal Concernments of It (London, 1674), 199-200.

[74] Baxter, Aphorismes, 109-10.

[75] John Owen, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith though the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated (1677) in The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, repr.1998.), 5:165.

[76] Samuel Petto, The Difference Between the Old and New Covenants (London, 1674), 200. Interestingly, Owen wrote the forward to this book.

[77] See Packer, Redemption, 257ff.

[78] Baxter, Of Justification: Four Disputations Clearing and amicably Defending the Truth, against the unnecessary Oppositions of divers Learned and Reverend Brethren (London, 1658), 123-4. See also his End of Doctrinal Controversies, 252ff.

[79] Baxter, Confession, 56.

[80] Baxter, Treatise, 163.

[81] “When the article of justification is lost, at the same time the whole Christian doctrine is lost.” Owen, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith through the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated,Works (1677) in Works, 5:67. For more on Owen’s doctrine of justification and the imputation of Christ’s active obedience, see Truman, John Owen, 101-21; R. Scott Clark, “Do This and Live: Christ’s Active Obedience as the Ground of Justification,” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, 236; and Michael Brown, “John Owen on the Imputation of Christ’s Active Obedience” in The Outlook, volume 58, issue 9, October 2008, 22-27.

[82] Allison, Rise of Moralism, 163.