Monday, December 25, 2023

On This Night in 1776, Washington and the Continental Army Save the Revolution

"Christmas, 6 P.M….It is fearfully cold and raw and a snow-storm setting in. The wind is northeast and beats in the faces of the men. It will be a terrible night for the soldiers who have no shoes. Some of them have tied old rags around their feet, but I have not heard a man complain….I have never seen Washington so determined as he is now….He stands on the bank of the stream, wrapped in his cloak, superintending the landing of his troops. He is calm and collected, but very determined. The storm is changing to sleet and cuts like a knife…." (from the Journal of Colonel John Fitzgerald, Continental Army, December 25, 1776)

On Christmas Night of 1776, approximately 2,400 soldiers of the Continental Army huddled together against the biting cold on the banks of the Delaware River.

Under the cloak of darkness and the relentless assault of winter, they were poised to navigate the treacherous, icy waters of the Delaware. Their destination: a surprise attack on the formidable Hessian mercenaries – a group renowned for their ruthless efficiency and, on a couple of occasions, brutality.

These were indeed the darkest hours for the fledgling American cause. At the onset of summer, General George Washington commanded a force of over 20,000. Now, thanks to disease, defeat, and desertion, fewer than 3,000 remained.

Yet, in this hour of despair...

General Washington's determination and the courage of the Continental Army would save the American cause.

You can read more about Washington's crossing of the Delaware and the battle at Trenton at Mount Vernon's website...

The Trenton-Princeton Campaign

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

‘To fear God: Masonic thought at the Founding’

For a glimpse into Masonic thought at the creation of the United States, I share with American Creation a small portion of a sermon delivered before a group of Freemasons in 1784 on St. John the Evangelist Day, one of two feast days traditionally celebrated in Freemasonry. December 27 has been reserved for historic occasions, such as the founding of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813; and standard events, such as the following church sermon, alike.

To Fear God:
The 1784 St. John’s Day Sermon 

On St. John the Evangelist Day 1784 at Morristown, New Jersey The Rev. Uzal Ogden delivered a sermon before Lodge No. 10. As best I can determine, he was not a Freemason, but with the surname Ogden, it is easy to see he had family connections to the fraternity, most probably to Moses Ogden and others at St. John’s Lodge in Newark. As for Lodge No. 10, this is the mysterious lodge in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, chartered by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. 

From the 1781 Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania Book of Proceedings. It’s a safe bet that this Dr. Blatchley is Bro. Ebenezer Blatchley, a Past Master of Lodge No. 10 who, in 1787, retroactively signed onto the formation of the Grand Lodge of New Jersey. Little is known about the lodge, except that it was chartered in 1767 by the Provincial Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania (Antients) and was empowered to meet within five miles of Basking Ridge.

The reverend
, an Episcopalian, was known to preach at Trinity Church in Newark and at the more famous Trinity Church in Manhattan, as well as at St. John’s Church in Elizabethtown. He graduated from Princeton University at age 18, and was ordained in 1773 at 29. He was an experienced speaker by age 40 when he preached this sermon to the local Freemasons, and he did so without notes. The reason we have it today is the lodge requested a written copy for publication, causing the reverend to put quill to paper after the fact. Historically, we readers find ourselves one year after the Revolutionary War ended and almost two years before the founding of the Grand Lodge of New Jersey.

This sermon is far too long to reproduce here, so I will summarize one of its four key ideas: “to notice what it is to ‘fear God.’”

What is it to fear God? When the candidate for the degrees of Freemasonry seeks admission to any of New Jersey’s lodges, the Worshipful Master orders that he be in “the fear of the Lord” upon entering. It must be important because it’s in all three degrees. It is more specific than belief in a higher power. What does it mean?

To fear God, Ogden said, is to love or to serve Him. He illustrates this with multiple quotations of Scripture, including two attributed to King Solomon: “It shall be well with those who fear God.” (Ecclesiastes 8:12) And “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10)

By the fear of God, he continues, “we are to understand a due observance of religion, which it may be said, consists of three particulars: knowledge, faith, and practice.”

“The first principle of religious knowledge requisite we should be acquainted with,” Ogden says, “is that there exists some Being superior to ourselves, who gave excellence to Creation, who inhabits eternity, whose knowledge is infinite, whose presence fills all space, whose power preserves and sustains all nature, and who possesses all possible perfection.”

“Can we behold the heavens above or the earth beneath,” he adds, “without acknowledging the infinite power, wisdom, and goodness displayed by some, though to us, invisible Architect?” 

Faith, Ogden’s second particular in fearing God, also is the first of the principal rounds of the ladder—Faith, Hope, and Charity—reaching to Heaven that Freemasonry discusses in its First Degree. Ogden begins: “But it is to no purpose we are informed of these things unless we believe them. ‘Without faith,’ it is said, ‘it is impossible to please God, for he that comes to Him must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.’”

“To hope for the friendship of God,” he adds, “while we disclaim His authority…would be irrational, as futile, as it would be to…behold the light if deprived of the organs of vision!”

Of the third of his particulars—practice—Rev. Ogden is all about character. “Although it is most reasonable we should offer to our Almighty Creator and divine benefactor the oblation of our hearts; and though Christianity is calculated to deliver us from infamy and woe, and to exalt us to honor and happiness, how often are its benefits rejected?” he asks. “How many are there, even of those professing to revere this dispensation of mercy, who live regardless of its precepts, and who, in their actions with men are so far from ‘doing as they would be done unto,’ that no feelings of humanity, no sense of honor, nor any fear of divine vengeance, nor any thing but present punishment can divert them from acts of dishonesty, barbarity, and flagrant impiety?” 

While there is no obvious documentation of Rev. Uzal Ogden being a Freemason, it is clear that Lodge No. 10 chose its speaker for St. John the Evangelist Day wisely. He anticipated his audience and crafted his remarks accordingly, and we are fortunate the lodge opted to have his sermon printed so posterity may enjoy it.

Friday, November 10, 2023

John Locke on Romans 13 and the duty to obey the government

 Today, John Locke is held to be an Enlightenment philosopher, "Enlightenment" used as rationalism in contradistinction to religious faith and the Christian Bible. However, the Founders largely considered him simply a very smart and elegant Christian thinker. What is not largely known even among scholars is that Locke's final life project, after the [anonymous!] publishing of his historic Two Treatises of Government, was a study of Paul the Apostle's Epistles.

Re Romans 13:1

"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."

this passage was and is the most troublesome political passage in the New Testament, and was responsible for literally millions of words exchanged on the question of political liberty. Men like John Calvin largely took it as an absolute prohibition against anything resembling revolution or revolt against even the meanest of rulers.

John Locke's treatment of Romans 13 is pretty straightforward: Christians are not exempt from obeying lawful authority just by virtue of being Christian. They have to obey the same laws as everybody else.

But on what is "lawful authority," Locke says Paul the apostle "is wholly silent, and says nothing of it," because for Paul or Jesus "to meddle with that, would have been to decide of civil rights, contrary to the design and business of the Gospel"---which of course was the business of salvation, of preparing for the next world, not this one.

Locke notes that it was Paul's intention and prudence, that such "sauciness, sedition or treason" was, in those times of Roman "insolent and vicious" rule, a "scandal to be cautiously kept off the Christian doctrine!" [The exclamation point is Locke's.]

Thus Paul's admonition is not one of political or theological right, but merely of prudence.

Founding era preacher William Ellery Channing made a similar argument about why the New Testament didn't explicitly ban slavery: "a religion, preaching freedom to the slave, would have shaken the social fabric to its foundation, and would have armed against itself the whole power of the state." Jesus didn't preach violent revolution, that his church would be arming itself against the whole power of the state. Indeed, we recall that many were disappointed he wasn't that kind of Messiah.

But that is not a Biblical endorsement of slavery either:

The perversion of Scripture to the support of slavery is singularly inexcusable in this country. Paul not only commanded slaves to obey their masters. He delivered these precepts: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation." This passage was written in the time of Nero. It teaches passive obedience to despotism more strongly than any text teaches the lawfulness of slavery. Accordingly, it has been quoted for ages by the supporters of arbitrary power, and made the stronghold of tyranny. 
Did our fathers acquiesce in the most obvious interpretation of this text? Because the first Christians were taught to obey despotic rule, did our fathers feel as if Christianity had stripped men of their rights? Did they argue, that tyranny was to be excused, because forcible opposition to it is in most cases wrong? Did they argue, that absolute power ceases to be unjust, because, as a general rule, it is the duty of subjects to obey? Did they infer that bad institutions ought to be perpetual, because the subversion of them by force will almost always inflict greater evil than it removes? 
No; they were wiser interpreters of God's Word. They believed that despotism was a wrong, notwithstanding the general obligation upon its subjects to obey; and that whenever a whole people should so feel the wrong as to demand its removal, the time for removing it had fully come. Such is the school in which we here have been brought up. To us, it is no mean proof of the divine original of Christianity, that it teaches human brotherhood and favors human rights; and yet, on the ground of two or three passages, which admit different constructions, we make Christianity the minister of slavery, the forger of chains for those whom it came to make free.

Thus Romans 13 can turn Christianity into the ally of tyranny by its acquiescence to it. Further, sayeth Locke, the "lawful authority" question must be decided by worldly standards, to be "determined by the laws and constitution of their country."

And so, if a legal argument to separate from Britain's constitutional monarchy could be made---and indeed the 27 "repeated injuries and usurpations" in the Declaration of Independence like "For imposing taxes on us without our consent" (taxation without representation) was such an attempt---then there was no theological impediment per Romans 13 to such a separation.

Further, Locke asserts "the doctrine of Christianity was the doctrine of liberty," using for his example that 
Christians were "freed" from observing the "Mosaical" law.

In other words, Locke is dispensing with any supernatural argument that unlawful rulers should be obeyed because it's God's will because Romans 13 says so. According to John Locke, it doesn't say that.

[ HT to Ben Abbott for the citation and link.]

CHAP. XIII. 1—7.
This section contains the duty of christians to the civil magistrate: for the understanding this right, we must consider these two things:
1. That these rules are given to christians, that were members of a heathen commonwealth, to show them that, by being made christians and subjects of Christ’s kingdom, they were not, by the freedom of the gospel, exempt from any ties of duty, or subjection, which by the laws of their country, they were in, and ought to observe, to the government and magistrates of it, though heathens, any more than any of their heathen subjects. But, on the other side, these rules did not tie them up, any more than any of their fellow-citizens, who were not christians, from any of those due rights, which, by the law of nature, or the constitutions of their country, belonged to them. Whatsoever any other of their fellow-subjects, being in a like station with them, might do without sinning, that they were not abridged of, but might do still, being christians. The rule here being the same with that given by St. Paul, 1 Cor. vii. 17, “As God has called every one, so let him walk.” The rules of civil right and wrong, that he is to walk by, are to him the same they were before.

2. That St. Paul, in this direction to the romans, does not so much describe the magistrates that then were in Rome, as tells whence they, and all magistrates, everywhere, have their authority; and for what end they have it, and should use it. And this he does, as becomes his prudence, to avoid bringing any imputation on christians, from heathen magistrates, especially those insolent and vicious ones of Rome, who could not brook any thing to be told them as their duty, and so might be apt to interpret such plain truths, laid down in a dogmatical way, into sauciness, sedition, or treason, a scandal cautiously to be kept off from the christian doctrine! nor does he, in what he says, in the least flatter the roman emperor, let it be either Claudius, as some think, or Nero, as others, who then was in possession of that empire. For he here speaks of the higher powers, i. e. the supreme, civil power, which is, in every commonwealth, derived from God, and is of the same extent everywhere, i. e. is absolute and unlimited by any thing, but the end for which God gave it, viz. the good of the people, sincerely pursued, according to the best of the skill of those who share that power, and so not to be resisted. But, how men come by a rightful title to this power, or who has that title, he is wholly silent, and says nothing of it. To [405] have meddled with that, would have been to decide of civil rights, contrary to the design and business of the gospel, and the example of our Saviour, who refused meddling in such cases with this decisive question, “Who made me a judge, or divider, over you?” Luke xii. 14.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

How Dr. Waligore Categorizes Different Theologies

This post is intended to be a brief overview of Dr. Joseph Waligore's new book on deism. I plan on having much more to say, but in this post, I try to hit some main points.

Waligore observes and constructs a number of different theological categories in his analysis to compare and contrast with the theology of deism. "Christianity" generally requires belief in orthodox Trinitarian doctrine and authority of the entire Bible (it's mainly Protestant Christianity that is being analyzed, so it would be the 66 book Protestant canon). 

There is one kind of "traditional Christianity" that, for lack of better words, is neither "freethinking" nor "ecumenical" on doctrine and dogma. Even though many more than two traditions within Christianity could be invoked to serve this purpose, it's mainly Calvinism and High Church Anglicanism that serve as useful guideposts in his book. (Though other forms, like Arminianism are also analyzed.)

Waligore observes the voyage of (Protestant) Christianity to Deism, by noting two OTHER Christian traditions that in the 17th Century started to engage in "doctrinal freethinking" for lack of a better term. The Cambridge Platonists and the Latitudinarians (the name refers to "latitude" on matters of doctrine). Though the reason why they merit the label "Christian" is again, they tended to endorse orthodox Trinitarian doctrine and the authority of the entire Bible.

One potential point of criticism is as much as we want figures to neatly fit into different "boxes" that we construct for a better, more accurate understanding, is that people often don't neatly fit into those boxes. For instance, Samuel Clarke gets put in the "Latitudinarian" not "Unitarian" box; though arguably he could fit into either one. The boxes tend to bleed into one another. 

But the pages I included in the photos on the Cambridge Platonists illustrate such freethinking (many of them seemed to flirt with some kind of modified universalism, and belief that human souls pre-existed and exercised their will prior to their physical birth, among other things). Yet, they remain "Christian" because, again, they claimed their heterodox ideas didn't contradict either the Bible or the doctrines of the Church of England.

By the time we get to the Unitarians, they lose the label "Christian" because of their disbelief in the Trinity. But Waligore stresses that they tended to have more respect for the entire Bible than the deists did. 

And that sets the stage for an intense, meticulous analysis of the various forms of deism. And the chief message of this book is that while there are certain points that can be drawn to form a "deist" creed, belief in a non-intervening watchmaker God was actually a minority belief among the deists. Deism came in many varieties and most of them believed in a Providential God. And for those who did believe in Providence, they much more freely "picked and chose" what parts of the Bible they thought legitimately revealed and which parts they thought not. 

Waligore also stresses that while the deists in general venerated man's reason as a discerner of truth, the notion that God was ultimately benevolent was the primary lens through which they viewed theology. Anything part of traditional Christianity or any other creed that they deemed made God look less than perfectly benevolent was cast aside.

Dr. Joseph Waligore's New Book on Deism

I've been absent from blogging for a few months because of a busy work-life (better to be busy than not!), but I've been planning on writing a great deal on this book by Dr. Joseph Waligore, in part because he closely reads our American Creation blog and our research has influenced the contents of this book.

I plan on having a lot more to say on the contents of this book; but it is a true "game changer" on how to understand the definition of "deism." Now, the current scholarly consensus defines deism as belief in 1. a non-intervening cold, distant watchmaker God who; 2. issues no special revelation, performs no miracles, doesn't communicate to man and consequently to whom praying would be a waste of time.

Waligore demonstrates that this definition is mistaken. Now, it's possible that because of how terms are understood in academic and other discourse, that we are "stuck" with this definition for now. However, keep in mind then that many of the historical figures whom we associate with "deism" from Washington, Franklin and Jefferson to Robespierre and many other figures of the French Revolution were not "deists." We need either a different term, or we need to qualify the term "deist" with an adjective like "warm deist," "providential deist," "Christian-Deist" etc., etc. 

Friday, July 14, 2023

AI Art -- American Revolutionary Period

Not sure how many of you have jumped on the AI art trend, but I thought I'd try something a little light today. Something not too intellectually heavy and (hopefully) not too controversial -- though I know many people detest artificial intelligence (AI) and all it stands for. But I'm not selling these. Just doing these for fun. So, here are some of my recent AI art creations inspired by the American Revolutionary time period. 

A Black soldier in the Continental Army

A Colonial American woman baking in her home

A blacksmith works in his shop

A British drummer boy

I know I haven't posted much in a while. Been busy. But if you like these, I may post some more. 

And, eventually, I may try to post some articles again. :-)

Blessings to all!

Friday, May 12, 2023

"Levelling" the Playing Field: John Lilburne, the Levellers and Combining the Protestant/Enlightenment Models of Resistance Theory


Resistance Theory, or the study of how different groups and individuals came to justify their opposition to authority, has emerged as a pivotal battlefield for modern historians.  In recent years, this battle seems to be waged by scholars who advocate for either the Protestant Reformers or Enlightenment thinkers as being the principal agents whose teachings and efforts proved most significant in fostering the ideas behind Resistance Theory.  And while efforts have been made to bridge both the ideas of Protestant Reformers and Enlightenment thinkers into a cohesive narrative that explains the origins of Resistance Theory, the gap between these supposed rivals remains. 

The 17th century witnessed significant political and social upheaval in England, particularly with regards to how nobility and citizenry came to define their relationship to one another.  In many respects, this era was the defining period for how Western Civilization would negotiate the bond between rulers and subordinates and the duties of each.  It is during this era that a group known as the Levellers emerged as a powerful and potent voice that came to embody many of the key elements of Resistance Theory.  Led by their fearless advocate John Lilburne, the Levellers developed a unique justification for opposition to authority that came to personify the very best of both the Protestant Reformers and the Enlightenment thinkers, making them the quintessential bridge that ostensibly links these apparent rivals.

The Protestant Arguments for Resistance Theory

            To better understand how the Levellers serve as a bridge linking both the Protestant and Enlightenment contributions to Resistance Theory, a general review of some of the key arguments behind both the Protestant and the Enlightenment ethic is warranted.  For the Protestant camp, scholars have, in recent years, insisted that many if not most of the ideas deemed special to Enlightenment thinkers were present in the Reformed traditions of Protestant Reformers.[1]  In essence, it was the fires of Protestantism, sparked and fueled by the difficulties of the Reformation, in which early reformers found the justifications to oppose their authority figures. 

This is no small claim, since Christianity itself had served as the justification behind Divine Right Kingship throughout Europe.  One example of this subjugation was the way in which Paul’s admonition to the Romans was afforded significant (or even histrionic) significance in what the Medieval world would call the Divine Right of Kings.

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.  Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation...For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.  Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.[2]

One would be hard pressed to find a set of verses in all Christian scripture that have caused more anxiety and debate in the study of Resistance Theory than these few words from Paul.  For centuries they came to dominate much of the public discourse on the question of how a “good Christian” should submit to authority, and when “righteous rebellion” to God’s chosen leaders was warranted.  Divine Right Kingship was not some passing fad that simply faded with time but rather was the bedrock for organizing the whole of society.  As one historian of Divine Right Kingship put it:

That the ideal State is the kingdom of God upon earth, and that no other can be an object of veneration to a Christian, is the notion that lies at the heart of Medieval Europe…the Pope, as most plainly the depositary of Divine Authority, afterwards the Emperor, as called to his office by God’s election and appointment, claims to be the true and supreme head of the Christian commonwealth, by Divine Right of the Lord of the world.[3]   

God’s division of responsibility between Pope and King meant that matters both spiritual and temporal had been given their divine sanction.  For the common Christian, this meant that both religious and governmental superiors exercised substantial influence on a laity now made fully dependent upon their will and pleasure.[4]

            Scholars who advocate for the Reformation Era as the nucleus of Resistance Theory ideology are quick to point to figures like John Wycliffe, who paved the way for later Protestant Reformers by attacking these foundations of Divine Right Kingship.  Wycliffe is significant because he not only opposed the rulers of his time, but he also led a movement of followers who took up his cause and carried it to the masses.  Known as the Lollards by their detractors, these followers of Wycliffe breathed new oxygen into the fire that Wycliffe had ignited through his extremely incendiary rhetoric.  Wycliffe was never one to shy away from taking shots at the ecclesiastical authorities of his time, particularly bishops, abbots and monks, whom he called “heretics” who “sacrifice unto idols…even more than the sacrifices of the priests of Baal” and whose form of worship “give their attention to ritual, flattery detraction and falsehood, rejecting scripture and neglecting to rebuke sin.”[5] And to his secular leaders, Wycliffe was equally harsh, calling the reign of King Richard, II not sanctioned by divinity.[6] 

These teachings, spread throughout Europe by both Wycliffe and his Lollards, posed a clear threat to both the authority of the Church and the king, and served as the inspiration for later Protestant Reformers who would take up Wycliffe’s mantle and advocate for opposition to authority.   In addition, the fact that England already seemed to embrace a spirit of reform before the Reformation even began indicates that the fires of popular dissent were already spreading before Luther or Calvin ever came on the scene.  As one historian has noted, “The ingredients of early Protestantism proved already numerous in the reign of Henry VIII, yet among them Lutheranism may scarcely be regarded as predominant, and Calvinism as yet remained almost negligible…we may now confidently ascribe a role of some importance on the popular level to the still vital force of Lollardy.”[7] 

When Luther, Calvin, etc. finally come on the scene, the initial flame of resistance to authority had already been stoked.  The Reformers themselves took the torch of Resistance Theory and added their ow unique perspectives to the narrative.  For men like Luther and Calvin, the issue of opposition to authority was as divisive (if not more so) as issues like sacraments, baptism and Biblical infallibility.  For example, Martin Luther’s understanding of the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “be subject unto the higher powers” that are “ordained of God” (as found in Romans, 13) were not subject to man’s personal interpretation.  In other words, there were limits to how far one could oppose his Sovereign.  As Luther stated in his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Romans, chapter 13 was “truly a most important piece of the New Testament.”[8]  And like the rest of his emerging theology, Luther encapsulated his understanding of Romans, 13 into the framework of his emerging theology on grace vs. works.  As Luther stated:

You must not understand the word law here in human fashion, i.e., a regulation about what sort of works must be done or must not be done. That's the way it is with human laws: you satisfy the demands of the law with works, whether your heart is in it or not. God judges what is in the depths of the heart. Therefore his law also makes demands on the depths of the heart and doesn't let the heart rest content in works; rather it punishes as hypocrisy and lies all works done apart from the depths of the heart.[9]

Luther added clarity to his position on Romans, 13 when he stated unequivocally that leaders were to be obeyed, even when they are evil.  As he stated, “subjects are to be obedient and are even to suffer wrong from their tyrants.”  Luther defended this position when he wrote:

There are some who abuse this office, and strike and kill people needlessly simply because they want to. But that is the fault of the persons, not of the office, for where is there an office or a work or anything else so good that self-willed, wicked people do not abuse it?...Ultimately, they cannot escape God’s judgment and sword. In the end God’s justice finds them and strikes, as happened to the peasants in the revolt.[10]

In Luther’s mind the words of Paul as found in Romans were crystal clear.  A Christian needed to take extreme care, considering the words of scripture before choosing to rebel against their God-chosen authorities.  And as Paul pointed out, support for one’s authority was God’s will, even when those leaders were in the wrong.  These concepts were not lost on Martin Luther, as evidenced by his words and teachings which endorse caution and submission as opposed to outright opposition.   

Martin Luther was not the lone voice of the Protestant Reformation who saw limitations to one’s opposition of authority.  Years later, John Calvin would also weigh in on the matter of how far was too far when it came to open opposition to one’s divinely sanctioned leader.  In his own commentary on the Book of Romans, Calvin spoke openly about one’s Christian duty to oppose authority.  He wrote:

[Paul] calls them the higher powers, not the supreme, who possess the chief authority, but such as excel other men…And it seems indeed to me, that the Apostle intended by this word to take away the frivolous curiosity of men, who are won’t often to inquire by what right they who rule have obtained their authority; but it ought to be enough for us, that they do rule; for they have not ascended by their own power into this high station, but have been placed there by the Lord’s hand. And by mentioning every soul, he removes every exception, lest any one should claim an immunity from the common duty of obedience.[11]


And while Calvin acknowledged the Christian duty to oppose unrighteous authority, he too expressed his opinion regarding the limitations expressly mentioned in Paul’s message to the Romans.  In his Institutes on the Christian Religion, Calvin writes, "We are to be subject not only to the authority of those princes who do their duty towards us as they should, and uprightly, but to all of them, however they came by their office, even if the very last thing they do is act like [true] princes."  Calvin also noted, “[w]e must honour [even] the worst tyrant in the office in which the Lord has seen fit to set him"[12]  In other words, John Calvin shared Martin Luther’s hesitation regarding opposition for authority.  There were clear limitations that had to be respected, even if a tyrant was ruling in the most unrighteous of ways. 

It may seem somewhat contradictory in nature to read Reformers like Calvin and Luther both sanctioning and opposing the concept of opposition to authority, but this contradiction illustrates the complexity that is found in Resistance Theory.  Protestant Reformers knew and understood that problems existed in the church hierarchy, and that said problems could not be ignored.  But at the same time, they also felt that absolute opposition constituted a potential breakdown of the social hierarchy, not to mention a blatant disregard for the admonitions of God found in holy scripture.  As one historian who advocates for the Protestant origins of Resistance Theory has reminded us, the Reformers never meant to overthrow the established order but rather to help cleanse the faith by “returning the church to where it should be.”[13]  A complete coup d’etat was never something they would have sanctioned.  Fellow Reformer Philip Melanchthon supports this understanding of resistance to authority when he wrote:

            But here the question is asked: If violation of civil laws is a mortal sin, what                                   should be thought about the violation of ecclesiastical laws which are laid down                           by bishops?  I answer: First of all, one must not obey traditions while militate                                    against a commandment of God, whether they originated with magistrates that                              bear the sword or with bishops, because one must obey God rather than men.[14]


The Era of the Protestant Reformation was witness to the proliferation of a vast number of different Protestant denominations.  This proliferation of Protestant denominations was at least in part inspired by the idea that an individual could read and interpret scripture for himself.  Prominent theologians such as Martin Luther, John Calvin and others argued that conscience, guided by one's personal interpretation of scripture, should take precedence over the dictates of religious and political authorities. This elevation of conscience as a moral compass was the foundational concept of how the Protestant Reformation furthered the cause of Resistance Theory.[15]

One of the primary issues many historians have with giving Protestant Reformers credit for helping to give birth to resistance theory has to do with the doctrines found in Protestantism itself.[16]  For example, if humanity is in a state of total depravity and God has chosen, of his own free will, his select few to be saved by unconditional election, how does resistance to authority become a thing in the first place?

What these skeptics fail to recognize is the fact that the Protestant Reformation was not a movement conceived in a bubble and limited to a small geographic location, in a specific period of history.  Instead, the Protestant Reformation was a living, growing movement that spread far and wide, and was never officially concluded at any specific moment of the past.  The Reformation continued to move forward, influencing various nations, cultures, and historic periods.  Consequently, we must then be forced to look at the evolution of resistance theory in the same light as we see a living, evolving and changing Reformation.  The Protestant Reformation did not live and die simply with Luther or Calvin, and the same is true of resistance theory.            

The Enlightenment Arguments for Resistance Theory

This apparent contradiction or limitation on the justification for opposition to authority is where skeptics of the Protestant Reformation model for the origins of Resistance Theory tend to focus their criticism.  Protestant Reformers went only so far in their arguments directed to inspire opposition.  It is that limitation that makes some historians lean toward the thinkers of the Enlightenment as being the actual gatekeepers for Resistance Theory.   As these historians will regularly point out, The Protestant Reformation advanced the cause of Resistance Theory only as far as it benefited their respective Protestant doctrine.  Beyond that, there was no need to champion the cause of open defiance to the political authorities.[17]

            For scholars of the Enlightenment persuasion being the principal motivation behind Resistance Theory, an appeal to the words of men like John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Hobbes and others constitute the bulwark of Resistance Theory doctrine. 

Beginning with Locke, these scholars are quick to demonstrate how the empirical approach of Enlightenment thinkers breathed new life into old institutions.  Locke’s views on religion have been thoroughly dissected by scholars of all stripes.  And while many historians are quick to point out that Locke was anything but orthodox in his religious persuasions, one would be extremely hard pressed to say that Locke cared nothing for religion at all.  As one biographer of John Locke put is, “Locke was concerned not only with religious toleration by the state, but also with mutual toleration of different sects, churches and their members.”[18]

And with this toleration, John Locke was free to explore avenues of thought that were not necessarily available to his predecessors like Calvin or Luther.  For example, Locke’s interpretation of Romans, 13 presents several unique points that not only build off of earlier opinions of key Protestant Reformers, but also present a clear path for resistance theory to flourish:

That these rules are given to Christians, that were members of a heathen commonwealth, to show them that, by being made Christians and subjects of Christ’s kingdom, they were not, by the freedom of the gospel, exempt from any ties of duty, or subjection, which by the laws of their country, they were in, and ought to observe, to the government and magistrates of it…But, on the other side, these rules did not tie them up, any more than any of their fellow-citizens, who were not Christians, from any of those due rights, which, by the law of nature, or the constitutions of their country, belonged to them. Whatsoever any other of their fellow-subjects, being in a like station with them, might do without sinning, that they were not abridged of, but might do still, being Christians…That St. Paul, in this direction to the romans, does not so much describe the magistrates that then were in Rome, as tells whence they, and all magistrates, everywhere, have their authority; and for what end they have it, and should use it.  And this he does, as becomes his prudence, to avoid bringing any imputation on Christians, from heathen magistrates, especially those insolent and vicious ones of Rome, who could not brook any thing to be told them as their duty, and so might be apt to interpret such plain truths, laid down in a dogmatical way, into sauciness, sedition, or treason, a scandal cautiously to be kept off from the Christian doctrine![19]

Unlike Luther and Calvin, Locke believed that the “magistrate” was meant to protect the masses from a tyrant, and absolute allegiance to God’s Sovereign was not absolute.  In other words, Locke understood Paul’s admonition to the Romans to be a loose guide but not an absolute admonition to always acquiesce to one’s leader.    Locke made this position clear when he wrote, “Our present King William…in the consent of the people, which being the only one of all lawful governments, he has more fully and clearly, than any prince in Christendom.”[20]  Contrary to the words of Protestant Reformers,  Locke gives the specific understanding that submission to one’s leader was contingent upon the rules of law and the consent of the people, which was absent from the Protestant arguments for opposition to authority. 

            Scholars advocating for the Enlightenment model for Resistance Theory do not rely on Locke alone.  Other thinkers like Baron de Montesquieu made mention of how authority was never meant to receive absolute sanction without limitation.  As he wrote in The Spirit of Laws, “The political liberty, of the subject, is a tranquility of mind arising from the opinion each person has of [their] safety. In order to have this liberty. It is requisite the government be so constituted as one [person] need not to be afraid of another.”[21]  Thomas Hobbs echoes these sentiments in his legendary work Leviathan when he wrote:

Because the major part hath by consenting voices declared a sovereign, he that dissented must now consent with the rest; that is, be contented to avow all the actions he shall do, or else justly be destroyed by the rest. For if he voluntarily entered into the congregation of them that were assembled, he sufficiently declared thereby his will, and therefore tacitly covenanted, to stand to what the major part should ordain: and therefore if he refuse to stand thereto, or make protestation against any of their decrees, he does contrary to his covenant, and therefore unjustly.[22]

            There is no dispute that Enlightenment teachings had spread a great deal across Europe.  The dissemination of such ideas inspired important writings that would contribute to the concept of Resistance Theory.  One of the most important of these writings was the Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos (A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants), written at some point in the middle of the sixteenth century, which was an anonymous treatise that defiantly suggested that the people at large were never responsible for obeying their king.  Appealing to biblical examples in which opposition to authority was warranted by God himself, the Vindiciae portrayed the relationship between king and subordinate as a covenant in which all honor and reverence to God’s laws was promised by the monarch, who in turn received the adoration and allegiance of his subjects.  Any violation of this arrangement was a breach of the covenant and merited the wrath of God’s vengeance.[23]  

Another important document inspired during this time was that of Scottish Presbyterian minister Samuel Rutherford, who in the 17th century published his landmark work Lex Rex (The Law is King) which openly and defiantly challenged the concept of Divine Right Kingship.  As Rutherford put it, “The people have power over the king by reason of his covenant and promise. — Covenants and promises violated, infer co-action, de jure, by law.”[24]

In the minds of scholars who favor Enlightenment thinking as being the chief motivator behind Resistance Theory, it is obvious that the ideas of Locke, Hobbs, Rutherford, etc. are the engines behind the justification for resistance to authority.  Protestant Reformers came up short, and therefore do not deserve the ultimate credit for Resistance Theory.  It is in the Enlightenment that Western Civilization found its justification for the eventual revolutions and oppositions to kings that would ultimately spread throughout Europe and the Americas.

John Lilburne, The Levellers, and Uniting the Protestant/Enlightenment Models

            As already stated, the concept of Resistance Theory has become a virtual tug-o-war between scholars advocating for the Protestant Reformers vs. those in favor of Enlightenment thinkers, each vying for ultimate control of the narrative behind opposition to authority.  And while these debates have yielded much fruit, they have failed to consider how both models have been adopted in the past.  The legacy of John Lilbure and the Levellers is one that merges the best arguments of both the Protestant and the Enlightenment traditions, creating a seamless narrative that gives credence to the whole of Resistance Theory.

When we consider the legacy of John Lilburne, the English writer and activist who is often credited with being the first to argue for “human free born rights,” we must consider what it was that inspired him in the first place.  Lilburne Biographer Pauline Gregg notes that John Lilburne was a man who “had a sense of destiny” who had “amalgamated all that had preceded him.”[25]  Lilburne’s “sense of destiny” certainly accounts for his willingness to boldly decry and lambast the leaders of his time, which gave him tremendous clout during the critical years of the English Civil War.  As another Lilburne Biographer states, “Lilburne was a key figure in the religious opposition of Charles I…and was a significant player in the rift of parliamentary coalition…Lilburne’s positions, then and now, help mark out our own positions in relation to political tyranny.”[26] 

In his writings and public declarations, Lilburne employed the ideas of both Protestant Reformers and Enlightenment thinkers to justify his blatant opposition to authority.  He constructed his understanding on both the backs of men like Luther and Calvin, while at the same time throwing punches with the arms of Locke and Hobbes.  This amalgamation of both the Protestant and the Enlightenment ideas eventually gave birth to a concept of Resistance Theory that embodied the best of both worlds.   

A perfect example of this fusion of Protestant and Enlightenment arguments can be found in Lilburne’s famous pamphlet, “To all the Freeborne People of England” in which Lilburne states, “No power on earth can lawfully force or compel me to believe otherwise than my own conscience dictates.”[27]  Here, Lilburne invokes the Protestant notion of individual conscience as a justification for opposing authority and interpreting scripture for oneself.  At the same time, Lilburne appealed to the Enlightenment idea regarding natural rights and natural law when he stated, “Liberty of conscience, being every man's natural right…it is not to be judged or cut off by human authority, but by the Word of God.”[28]  Lilburne reiterates this Enlightenment theme of natural rights in his pamphlet “England’s Birthright Justified when he writes, “I am born a free-born Englishman, and have as much right to my liberty, to my just propriety, and to my body and soul as any Lord in England.”[29] By appealing to the natural rights of individuals, Lilburne argued that authority should be limited and accountable to the people it governed.

Lilburne’s work inspired his supporters, known as The Levellers, to take up the cause of opposition to authority.  The Levellers came to detest the religious domination of both the Catholic Church and the Church of England, which is where the root of their opposition to authority began to sink deeply into the ground.  The Levellers successfully synthesized both Protestant and Enlightenment concepts to construct a robust justification for opposition to authority.  As one scholar has noted, “By combining the Protestant emphasis on individual conscience and the Enlightenment focus on reason and natural rights, [the Levellers] developed a comprehensive framework for challenging authoritarian rule.”[30]  In essence, this became the Leveller’s hallmark contribution to Resistance Theory. 

In terms of their ability to merge both the Protestant and Enlightenment models, the Levellers took from each model the best that each camp had to offer.  From the Protestant model the Levellers were profoundly influenced by the idea of covenant theology, which emphasized the contractual nature or relationship between God and humanity at large.  In essence, the Levellers found in the Protestant concept of covenant theology and framework in which could be constructed a model for the relationship between one’s sovereign and the masses at large.  This model would inspire Protestant Reformers to advance their interpretation of Resistance Theory and would filter all the way down to the Levellers who not only adopted the idea but made it their own.  As Historian Tim Rees notes, this “dichotomization of the covenant tradition into unilateral and bilateral approaches is helpful in the analysis of seventeenth-century English developments.”[31]  A seventeenth century England that the Levellers were more than just a little bit familiar. 

In contrast, the preeminent concept that the Levellers gleaned from Enlightenment teachings is the concept of natural law and the social contract theory.  On the surface, these ideas share much in common with the Protestant idea of covenant theology, but they differ greatly on the specifics.  The Enlightenment principles found in the “State of Nature” as Thomas Hobbes argued, were such that each man would seek after his own desires unless a “social contract” was established in which man gave up a portion of his freedom for the greater good.[32]  For the Levellers, this meant that allegiance to one’s ruler was contingent upon that greater good, and if that were to be violated, opposition to authority was warranted. 

The Levellers, inspired by this Enlightenment concept of the “State of Nature” emphasized reason and rationality as essential tools for political and social reform. As a result, the Levellers brought together both the idea of the social contract and covenant theology into one cohesive doctrine that inspired and drove their understanding of opposition to authority.  The Levellers sought to create a society where decisions were made based on logical analysis and spiritual conviction.  This created a healthy aversion to the idea of blind adherence to traditional or divinely sanctioned authority.

The Leveller’s unique interpretation of opposition to authority allowed them to oppose not only King Charles during the English Civil War, but also the reign of Oliver Cromwell in the aftermath of the King’s demise.  As he stated in his formal 1748 opposition to Oliver Cromwell and what he believed to be a tyrannical government, John Lilburne and the Levellers wrote:

Insomuch as we who upon these grounds have laid out ourselves every way to the uttermost of our abilities — and all others throughout the land, soldiers and others who have done the like in defense of our supreme authority and in opposition to the king — cannot but deem ourselves in the most dangerous condition of all others: left without all plea of indemnity for what we have done, as already many have found by the loss of their lives and liberties either for things done or said against the king, the law of the land frequently taking place and precedency against and before your authority, which we esteemed supreme, and against which no law ought to be pleaded. Nor can we possibly conceive how any that in any ways assisted you can be exempt from the guilt of murders and robbers by the present laws in force if you persist to disclaim the supreme authority, though their own consciences do acquit them as having opposed none but manifest tyrants, oppressors and their adherents.[33]

Lilburne would eventually go so far as to be imprisoned, on multiple occasions, for his assertions and beliefs, along with a large number of his Leveller followers.  By promoting opposition to authority, through the many written pamphlets, letters and other written forms, John Lilburne and the Levellers advanced the cause of Resistance Theory throughout England.  The critical formative years of the English Civil War witnessed tremendous upheaval in ways that had not previously been experienced by the English populace. 

            Naturally, the opposition to authority on the part of the Levellers landed them in trouble with the powers of their era.  Faced with numerous trials for heresy, the Levellers were faced with the grim prospect of imprisonment and even death, but also with the opportunity to spread their message even further to both the masses and the governing elite alike.  In his work, “Voicing Dissent,” Historian John Arnold notes that the heresy trials of the Levellers presented “unprecedented opportunities” for the “dissemination of the Leveller’s teachings.”[34]  In short, these heresy trials presented the Levellers with the chance to disseminate teachings and materials that had previously been consigned to pamphlets, petitions, etc. often published under pseudonyms due to censorship and potential punishment. 


The Levellers' clever combination of both Protestant and Enlightenment ideas significantly contributed to the political and philosophical discourse of their time. The Levellers' synthesis of Protestant and Enlightenment ideas serves as a testament to the transformative power of intellectual cross-pollination. Their ability to draw upon diverse philosophical and religious traditions allowed them to construct a comprehensive and persuasive theory of resistance.  As such, the Levellers' legacy remains an important chapter in the history of political thought, highlighting the potential for fruitful dialogue and synthesis between different intellectual traditions.  By incorporating the principles of covenant theory, natural laws/rights and the social contract, the Levellers provided the perfect Rorschach test for Western Civilization to oppose oppressive leadership.  Their work continues to resonate in modern democratic societies, shaping the concepts of freedom, equality, democracy and citizen participation in government.


[1] Mark David Hall and Sarah Morgan Smith, “Whose Rebellion? Reformed Resistance Theory in America, Part I” (George Fox University, Digital Commons Publication, Department of History, Politics and International Studies, 2017). Pp. 170.

[2] Romans 13:1-2.  The Holy Bible: The King James Version (World Wide Bible Assoc.: 2019).

[6] Ibid, 259-260.

[9] Ibid, 164-165.

[12] Ibid, 479-480.

[14] Philip Melanchthon, Commentary on Romans, 215-216.

[16] Gregg Frazer, The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders: Reason, Revelation and Revolution (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2012). Pp. 66-68.  Though Dr. Frazer’s book does not focus on the Protestant Reformation directly, his research into Calvinism and its influence on resistance theory is applicable.  Dr. Frazer maintains that the concept of resistance theory was born in spite of the Protestant Reformation, by those influenced by Enlightenment principles. In this book, Dr. Frazer coins the phrase “Theistic Rationalists” and applies it to those whom he believes eventually gave birth to resistance theory. 

[17] Jacob De Roover “John Locke, Christian Liberty, and the Predicament of Liberal Toleration.” Political Theory, vol. 36, no. 4 (August 2008): 523–49.  Roover highlights the ways in which Protestant Christianity tolerated and in many respects encouraged the continuation of hostile political authority, which would remain intact until the rise of Enlightenment arguments to the contrary. 

[20] John Locke, Two Treatises of Government.  Harvard University Press, 1824.   AJ?hl=en&gbpv=1

[21] Baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws, Complete Works, vol. 1 Trans. T. Evans (London: 1748). Pp. 344.

[25] Gregg, Pauline, Free Born John: A Biography of John Lilburne (University of Arizona Press, 2001). Pp. 16.

[26] Michael Braddick: The Common Freedom of the People: John Lilburne & the English Reformation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018). Pp. 282. 

[30] Hammersley, Rachel. The English Republican Tradition and Eighteenth-Century France Between the Ancients and the Moderns. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010. Pp. 13.

[31] Rees, Tim. "The Levellers and Covenant Theology." The Seventeenth Century 24, no. 2 (2009): Pp. 225.

[32] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 610.

[34] John Arnold, “Voicing Dissent: Heresy Trials in Later Medieval England.”  Past & Present, Volume 245, Issue 1, November 2019.