To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken.—Jer. 6.10

[A Reply to Robert Langlan's Letter to Gavin Wotherspoon, by Mr. James Renwick.]
From the unjust charges of
Usurping Authority, Civil & Ecclesiastical;

Minister of the Gospel.
December 13, 1685.

I HAVE seen your letter which you wrote to Gavin Wotherspoon, and it doth not a little trouble me, that ye have, and expressed so great mistakes of us; many are the wormwoods and bitter ingredients in our cup, and I think our sad and wide breaches (together with the various spiritual plagues that have seized upon our spirits) are amongst the bitterest. But until the Lord heal our backslidings, (by taking away the guilt thereof, and breaking the power thereof, and removing the spiritual judgments, which are the saddest consequences thereof, and pour down the spirit from on high) it will never be otherwise with us: Our ruptures will never be truly and safely removed, until our sins be confessed, mourned over, and forsaken, and the unclean spirits of self, prejudice, and mistakes be made to pass out of the land. For mine own part, union in the Lord, would be a most rejoicing, pleasant, and desirable thing: I say, that union, that is bottomed upon the truth, and cemented with love; for any [other] kind of union would be but a conspiracy, and not a union. O for that soul-ravishing day, when we shall have union rightly qualified! I think that would be the church of Scotland's restoration.

But to come to your foresaid letter: There are some things there, Sir, which (I say) are not a little astonishing to me: I shall not now enter into the list of the debate; but I desire, in the fear of the Lord, that, ye would look otherwise upon our matters: Ye say, "That we have overturned presbyterian government even to the foundation, and put in its room a popular confusion:" And to prove this, ye instance a paper of ours in reply to James Russel, his libel against us; whence ye draw, that we commit to persons, that are not church officers, the trial both of the degree of scandals, and the degree of censures to be inflicted for the same. But in this ye wrong our paper, very sadly; for, it does not at all speak of censures, or the measure thereof committed to these persons, but only the trying and searching out the measure of the scandal; and by trying and searching, there, we do not understand, a judicial trying and searching, but only private and popular, by way of information; not that we might {573} judge or censure the person, if scandalous: But, that we might have a judgment of our own duty, how to carry towards him; and if the measure of the scandal would bear the weight of our withdrawing from him: Non per modum specialis delegationis, sed per modum communis charitatis; not by way of special delegation, but by way of common charity, which is no act of the keys: And this is very clear; seeing our paper makes not mention of censure, though ye allege the same upon it. Also charity, which thinketh no evil, would put this construction upon our words, seeing they can so well bear it. Again, the word try is taken in this sense, 1 John 4.1. Try the spirits, which epistle is not written to church guides only: sicklike [suchlike], Rutherford, in his peaceable plea for presbytery, chapter 1, page 83, disclaims a representative church, in a common sense; which is a number sent by a community, to give laws, absolutely tying: As if believers should say, we resign our faith and conscience to you, to hold good whatsoever you determine, without repeal, or trial: Now, doth not this make it clear, that our words will bear this sense? All that we understand and express by them, is also competent to professors of the faith; as Acts 17.11, These of Berea received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so. Now, these were the believers in Berea, and not the church guides, as is clear in the 12th verse, where it is spoken of women, who are not admitted to bear any office in the church: Moreover, Acts 11, These of the circumcision contended with Peter, for an alleged scandal, for eating with the uncircumcised; and he rehearses the matter from the beginning, and expounds it in order to them. From this, I do not draw (with the independents) that the power of censuring church-guides is in the hands of the people; as in their argument from the forecited place: But, I hold what holy and learned Rutherford saith, in answer thereunto, in his peaceable plea, chapter 4, page 51,52, (to wit) That Peter, or any church-guide, is to purge himself before any one brother of a scandal: Yea, the necessity of his salvation, and so the law of nature forbids to offend the weak, and willeth him to purge himself, if he were a Pope, saith Oecom. If Peter had done wrong, he was obliged to confess his scandal before one offended brother, and also, before all the church: But that proveth not jurisdiction in the believer.

Lastly, If this belong not unto people, they have nothing but a blind implicit faith; and what better are they than papists, who must believe as the church believes? Yea, hath not every private Christian a judgment of discretion, even in reference to the actions of others? seeing they are to do nothing doubtingly, but to be fully persuaded in their own {574} minds, Rom. 14.5,23. But some (I know) say, that withdrawing from a scandalous person, is a censuring of a scandalous person; and to withdraw from a scandalous minister, is to depose him, and make him no minister. But this I deny; for simple withdrawing is not the inflicting of a censure, but only the believers’ testifying their sense, that the censure should be inflicted (to wit) by such as are competent: And this is warranted by scripture: Rom 16.17; Eph. 5.11; 2 Thes. 3.14, and many such like places. Also, Rutherford saith, in his Peaceable Plea, chapter 4, page 25, That the law of nature will warrant a popular and private subtraction and separation from the ministry of a known wolf and seducer; and alloweth what Parker saith, from Saravia, Licet tutela inculpata uti, si malus rector ab ecclesia deponi nequit. It is lawful to use that blameless and just defence, if the bad church-guide cannot be deposed. Any private person may take that care for the safety of their soul, that they may do for the safety of their bodies: For, a son may defend himself, by flying from his distracted father, coming to kill him; and none will call this an act judicial of authority, but only an act natural. Now, I say, private separation from scandalous persons, is not depriving of them, if they be pastors; nor an excommunicating of them, if they be professors: For, the latter is an act of authority, belonging to these to whom Christ hath given the keys; but the former is an act natural, belonging to every believer. Likewise, if withdrawing from a scandalous person be a censuring of scandalous persons, then the professors who withdraw from the curates, do censure the curates; which I hope no sound presbyterian will say. Howbeit, I distinguish betwixt a person scandalous really, and a person scandalous judicially; and between a church in a settled state, and a church in a broken state. So, I say, when a church is in a settled state, a person really scandalous cannot be withdrawn from, until (at least) he be judicially, by two or three witnesses, convicted, before the church, Rutherford's Peaceable Plea, chapter 9, page 117, seeing that the brethren offended have church-judicatories to appeal unto, for taking order with offenders: But when the church is in a broken state, and every man (as the children of Israel, when they wanted governors) doing that which is right in his own eyes, there may and should be withdrawing from a person scandalous really, though he be not scandalous judicially; because then ecclesiastic judicatories, for censuring of him, cannot be had: Otherwise, all must go into a mixed confusion together; the faithful must become partakers of other men’s sins, private and popular means of reclaiming offending brethren shall be stopped, and the testimonies of the faithful shall fall to the ground. But (mark it) I am not, even {575} in this case, for a rude, off-hand withdrawing, until private admonition (according to Christ's method) once and again, prove ineffectual; and the offender declare his obstinacy. Now, I beg that ye would consider how heavy a charge ye have laid upon us, by asserting, "That we have overturned presbyterian government even to the foundation, and put in its room popular confusion;" seeing your grounds are bottomless. And as to this I shall say no more: But ye have a way, Sir, of drawing stretched consequences from words and sentences, (which I cannot join with) as ye have done from the foresaid words, in our foresaid reply; as, to all unprejudiced persons, may be manifest. As also, from that word treacherous in our protestation, against the Scottish congregation at Rotterdam, asserting and writing, that the foresaid word treacherous imports a design to betray: But for my own part, I could never see that it imported more than a practical deserting of duty, or betraying of trust, abstracting from the persons’ design; and I never knew another commentary upon it: And I desire to know, what way treacherous (expressed Zeph. 3.4.) will bear your sense. Also, great Mr. Durham, in his treatise upon scandal, doth say, "That the term, malicious, is not to be referred to the design of the person; though malicious be still taken in as bad a sense as treacherous." Ah! the Lord behold our case. James Russel spreads of us, that we went off at the left-hand, by admitting scandalous persons amongst us: And ye write of us, that we went off the right-hand, by devolving the church power upon the shoulders of the people; so we are beat upon both hands. The Lord help us.

Secondly, Ye say, "We have most unhappily thrust in ourselves into the magistrate's room, and taken to us the civil government." Wherefrom do ye draw this? From our declining the magistrates, because tyrants? Then every man declining a prelate, because a church-officer not of Christ's appointment, thrusts himself into the prelate's room, and takes unto himself the ecclesiastic government; and what great absurdity will be here? But mistake me not; for I will not misinterpret your words: Ye say, "That if every man of us, for himself, had said, he could not own the magistrates and the present government, because tyrants and tyrannical; there had been little to be said; especially if we had done as we said, striving like men to cast off the yoke." But, granting it had been so, there would have been something to be said; for little to be said, imports something to be said; and I know many said very much, even against the matter of the deed: Also, we could have said more, than that we, every man for himself, could not own the government, because tyrannical; and the magistrates, because {576} tyrants: For we could have said, we, for ourselves and all our adherents, and all these by whom we were sent and commissionated for that deed, could not own the foresaids; and that the law of God, the law of nature, and the fundamental laws of our land, and our covenants, did oblige all the subjects of the kingdom (especially these who yet profess adherence to our covenants) to do, as we have done: And this is all that I understand, by any words in our declaration (about which ye make so much matter of debate.) Also, how can it be instructed, that we have acted as a convention of estates? The mere disowning of the present government and governors, doth it not; for that is an act radical and natural. And as for the expression itself, in our Lanerk declaration, (used in the historical relation of the Sanquhair declaration preceding) to wit, convention of estates; what needeth so much fighting about it, seeing ye know our mind? Famous Mr. Rutherford saith, in his Peaceable Plea, chapter 9, page 107, "That he lists not to strive about names." We crave only that right, that God and nature have given us; and, come in behind us, or go out before us who will, let us have our own place. Howbeit, as to me, these words, that ye fight so much against, in our declaration, may bear a safe sense, though I disown the sense ye put upon them: For, as to convention of estates, I understand it not in a formal and proper sense, extending itself judicially over the whole land (although all were obliged to have concurred with us, by reason of the duty of the action:) But in an improper and figurative sense; yea, may it not be said by Synecdoche? the better part getting the denomination of the whole; they acting jointly, by common consent, and explicit commission, for that effect, from several honest sufferers, in several corners of the land, in the name of all their adherents; and founding upon the law of nature, the fundamental laws of the kingdom, and our laudable constitutions. And as to the other expression, in our Lanerk declaration, to wit, "In our name and authority;" I understand it not as importing the authority of the judge, but the authority of the law, which certainly they had; they keeping by the fundamental laws of the land.

And as to that, in our first declaration at Sanquhar, viz. "Representatives of church and covenanted nation:" What absurdity is there in saying, that these elders, who keep closest by the lawful constitutions of a church, are the representatives thereof? And people of a covenanted nation, who keep closest by their covenants, (even though they were never so few) are the representatives thereof, as it is covenanted; though not in an authoritative and nomothetical, yet in a material and participal sense; as it hath a relation to the {577} word from whence it is derived, that is representatives, not as it is strictly taken, for these who are clothed with formal authority; but as it is largely taken, for these who do represent, or are in the place of others, doing that which all, whom they represent, are obliged unto, from the nature of the thing. But I do not hold, that these declarations were emitted by a formal judicatory, as having the authority of any judge: for as yet, I see not how some persons, as having ecclesiastic authority, and others, as having civil authority, could authoritatively concur in one action: I leave this to the tyrant's council, which is made up of lords spiritual and temporal, as they call them. So, I look upon the declarations to be emitted by the publishers, as free subjects, for themselves, and these, from whom they were commissionated, for that effect; and all others their adherents. And, for mine own part, I wish that these words had been otherwise expressed, that so they might not have admitted of such various senses. Nevertheless, I still think, where there is a cordial agreeing with the matter and intent of these papers, there would not be any such inveighing against these expressions; especially seeing the minds of the owners thereof are sound (even anent the same) and their meaning good. And I wonder greatly how ye can exclaim so much against the foresaid names, seeing we told you many times, in our conferences together, our judgment concerning them, that we owned them not in the sense that ye put upon them; and that, rather than that debate should be kept up, upon such a head merely; though we could not resile from them in any safe and sound sense, wherein we ourselves could take them; yet, for union's sake in the Lord, we would be content to lay them aside, desiring no more of any, who would join with us, (as to that head) than their cordial agreement with the matter and intent of our foresaid declarations. Yet, notwithstanding of all this, ye often recurred upon these words at our meeting, and now have written, that "we have most unhappily thrust ourselves into the magistrate's room;" and that "we continue most unhappily to manage civil affairs." Seeing that ye know our minds, Sir, why will ye make men such offenders for words? suppose they could bear no safe sense at all: Will such a spirit be helpful, to the healing of our breaches? And how comes it, that in the relation, which ye give of our conferences, ye say, "That we have disowned such things," and in this your letter ye say the contrary, asserting, that "we continue yet, most unhappily to manage civil affairs." And whereas ye say, "There would have been little to be said, especially, if we had done as we said, striving like men to cast off the yoke:" We have done as the Lord gave us spirit and ability; and he hath assisted many {578} of us, (O praise be to him alone for it) to wrestle to our utmost breath, and to leave our blood both on scaffolds and fields, in testimony against the wrongs done to our Lord Jesus, by that tyrannical government. And I think people should not speak much of our doing little, until they do more themselves. And for my own part, I wish, the Lord might polish and raise up a party, whose zealous, Christian, and manly actions, might obscure all ours: For, the glory is only due to the Lord, and not to any creature; and a self-denied Christian will desire, that all instruments’ hands may be hid, to the end that the Lord's hand may the more appear; so that, he may get all the praise of the work. Now, from this, I wish, ye may see how groundless your accusation is.

Thirdly, You say, "That we have imposed most unhappy restrictions upon ministers, in the exercise of their ministry." I think, this poor mistaken remnant, never in the least intended any restrictions on ministers; but only desire that they may declare unto them the mind of God, faithfully, both anent the sins and duties of our day; they would have ministers taking a liberty to preach up all duties, and down all sins: This is no restriction, neither is it any imposition; neither is it a prescribing rules to ministers; for the word of God hath prescribed this rule, Isaiah 58.1, Shew my people their transgressions, and the house of Jacob their sins. Jer. 15.19, If thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth: But this is a pleading with our mother, Hos. 2.2; And a saying to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry, which thou hast received of the Lord, that thou fulfill it. And this the scriptures do allow, and this I hope ye will not deny: But to prove your assertion, I know ye will instance the first call given to the ministers, which ye did see yourself long before I saw it; yet what needs this? seeing it was so frequently told in public, that, that call was not owned by us, as to all, (especially the lesser things in it) for, pudor est nemini in meliora transire, it is a shame for no man to mend the least thing that is amiss. Should not every Christian (in whatsoever capacity) be still stepping forward unto better? seeing there is neither perfection, nor infallibility here. I must say, that more tenderness should be used towards a poor wasted bleeding people, chased by a cruel enemy, as partridges in the wilderness, their blood spilt in great measure; yea, and left in the dark by their leaders: Especially seeing they are so willing to receive instruction, and to take with any thing that ever looked like the least wrong among them. Which thing I have not yet seen in others; for they defend even their gross scandals, and will not acknowledge any offence, in particular among themselves, through the whole tract of our defections. {579}

Further, Ye wrong us, when ye say, "That because they preach upon such and such terms, we call them silent and unfaithful, and require disowning of them." For, before ever these terms were offered to them, by the suffering party, which, I wish, had been yet undone; we were in the same case and circumstances as to them, that we are in to this day. And as for the question put to these, who are admitted to sit in our general meetings, &c. It is, anent "the joining with the complying, silent, and unfaithful ministers of the time:" It is not my concern now, to descend in application to particular persons; yet I ask, 1st, Whether or not are there any such in Scotland? 2dly, If there be any such, whether or not should they be joined with? 3dly, If they are to be joined with, what mean such scripture precepts, Rom. 16.17; 2 Thes. 3.14. And what mean our general assemblies to decree, "That complying ministers with the adversaries, and silent and unfaithful ministers anent the sins of the time, (if persisting in them) ought to be deposed." And, 4thly, Whether or not that which will bear the weight of deposition, will bear the weight of withdrawing, when deposition cannot be had, the ministers persisting in their offensive courses? Now I hold, that people are not to judge ministers, yet they are to have a judgment of their own duty, how to carry towards ministers: I am against people’s desiring any thing of ministers, but what is divinely bound upon them by the word of God, and ecclesiastically by our national and solemn covenants, and acts of our general assemblies; so this is not the people’s imposition, restriction, or binding, but what is bound by the authority of God and the church: And if these ties were regarded, as they should be, honest people would be satisfied themselves, and otherwise constructed by others; and there would not be such differences, when we descend into particulars.

Now, I desire from real charity towards you, that ye would weigh matters in the balance of the sanctuary, which is even, and impartial; and forbear your far-fetched and sickly consequences, which ye draw from honest actions.

Also, I thought fit to insinuate unto you here, that there are some things in the relation of what past at our conference, as it was resumed by you before our general meeting, which I can sufficiently prove to be, in a great part, misrepresented; as afterwards, (if need be) may be made manifest. But as to what ye have said, in your letter, of me in particular; I heartily forgive you, and shall be very brief in my reply.

Ye say, First, That I have written in a letter to a friend in Ireland, "That there is not a minister in Scotland, England, or Ireland, faithful save one" I humbly and kindly desire, {580} that ye would consider upon what grounds ye have said such a thing: For the charge I deny; and the expression (yea, such a thought) would savour so much of the basest of self, (which, though it be as our skin, wherein our flesh and bones are enchambered, and so nature is most tender of one penny-breadth of it) that therefore I would abhor it. If I have written any thing of the unfaithfulness of ministers indefinitely; yet it is a weer-drawing of words, or a wrong-drawn consequence, to infer, that I have said, "There is none faithful in Britain or Ireland, save one;" for it is not unusual in the scriptures to speak indefinitely of a plurality, that which is to be instanced of any of that sort: See learned Mr. David Dickson upon Matt. 27.44.1 I shall say no more as to this, but, God pardon the unfaithfulness of ministers; and let their deeds prove who have been faithful, and who not.

Secondly, Ye say, "That, by my own confession, I am not a minister of this church;" which I altogether deny: For, that which I said, was, That I am a minister in that place wherever I have a call from the people, and do embrace it: And if your assertion will follow from this truly, I see not well; but I am short-sighted always. There are several other things in your letter, anent which I was thinking to have written unto you; but I being loth to trouble you, and the things themselves not so material, I shall forbear; only desiring, that what I have said, ye would not take in ill part: For, so far as I can see into mine own heart, it is neither self, nor prejudice, that hath moved me unto it; but merely, that truth may be cleared, and that the actings of the poor, wounded, suffering party, may not be so sadly misrepresented, to the great detriment of the cause of Christ. Also, I beg, ye would not give ear to busy-bodies, and talebearers, their whispering in your ears: For such have had no small hand in widening of our breaches: I wish they may have pardon of God for what they have done. O that the Lord's elect were agreeing together in truth! O that all these, that shall agree in heaven, were agreeing upon earth! I think if my blood could be a means to procure it, I could willingly offer it up, upon that account: But I speak as a fool. O that all the Lord's people were searching out their sins, taking with their guilt; mourning for, and forsaking their iniquities! This would be yet some branch of hope. But that is coming, which will make many change their thoughts: For I write it, and abide by it, That the Lord is coming with a flood of his anger upon Scotland; and ere his controversies be ended, he will work a strange work in the land: For, as Micah 7.11-13, Although that, in the {581} day that her walls are to be built, the decree shall be far removed, and they shall come to her from sea to sea, and from mountain to mountain: Notwithstanding, the land shall be desolate, because of them that dwell therein, for the fruit of their doings. O happy are they, who are going into their chambers, and closing door and windows about them, that wrath may have no entry in! O happy they, who are sighing and crying, for all the abominations that are done in the earth! But, in the mean time, it doth not a little quiet and comfort me, that Christ hath told, that the government is upon his shoulders, and he knoweth how to erect a glorious fabric out of a mass of confusion; and I believe, he will make the succeeding generation to reap a glorious fruit of the sad sufferings and contendings, that have been in our day. Not to trouble you further, I wish peace and truth may be your companions, I am,

Your Soul's Wellwisher,
And Friend in Jesus Christ.


1. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth: Christ suffereth at the hands of those that were crucified with him: it is not unusual in the Scripture, to speak indefinitely of a plurality, that which is to be instanced of any one of that sort: for the meaning is, that not only common beholders, and formerly known enemies, did mock our Lord, but also the two thieves hanging now on the cross beside him, justly condemned for their robbery, were not free of mocking the innocent Son of God; for one of them did cast the same scoff in his teeth also. DOCTRINE: (1.) It is no wonder to see the innocency of Christ's followers mocked by rascals; for our Lord did suffer cruel mocking by a condemned robber. (2.) Straits and torment will not tame a reprobate, even on the threshold of hell he will blaspheme God, without a cause offered, as here is to be seen.—David Dickson