Roger Williams on Israel as a Type of the Church
Roger Williams led the 17th century charge for religious liberty (“liberty of conscience”). He wrote to parliament and the Westminster Assembly urging for tolerance and he wrote two books interacting with New England Congregationalist John Cotton’s arguments for intolerance.
One of the arguments Williams appealed to was that Israel was a type of the Church. Therefore we cannot simply take penal sanctions from the Old Covenant and apply them to modern nations today. Of course the Presbyterians disagreed and argued that Israel was itself the church so the penal sanctions do apply today in the same way (because there was a separation between church and state in Israel, so the church is structured after Israel’s ecclesiastical hierarchy and the modern state after Israel’s civil laws).
Williams wrote The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution and the follow-up The Bloudy Tenent Yet More Bloudy in the form of a dialogue between Peace and Truth. I modernized the spelling.
The Bloudy Tenent (1644)
I have fully and at large declared the vast differences between the holy nation of typical Israel and all other lands and countries, how unmatchable then and now, and never to be parallel’d, but by the true Israel and particular churches of Christ, residing in all parts (and under the several civil governments) of the world*: In which churches, the Israel of God, the Kingdom of Christ Jesus, such only are to be chosen spiritual officers and governors, to manage his kingly power and authority in the church, as are (according to the Scriptures quoted, not Pope, Bishops, or civil powers, but) from amongst themselves, brethren, fearing God, hating covetousness or filthy lucre, according to those golden rules given by the Lord Jesus, 1 Tim 3 & Tit 1.
The want of discerning this true parallel, between Israel in the type then, and Israel the antitype now, is that rock whereon (through the Lords righteous jealousy, punishing the world, and chastising his people) thousands dash, and make woeful shipwreck. The second branch, viz. that all freemen elected be only church members, I have before shown to be built on that sandy and dangerous ground of Israel’s pattern: O that it may please the Father of lights to discover this to all that fear his name! then would they not sin to save a kingdom, nor run into the lamentable breach of civil peace and order in the world, nor be guilty of forcing thousands to hypocrisy, in a state worship, nor of prophaning the holy name of God and Christ, by putting their names and ordinances upon unclean and unholy persons: nor of shedding the blood of such heretics, &c. whom Christ would have enjoy longer patience and permission until the harvest: nor of the blood of the Lord Jesus himself, in his faithful witnesses of truth: nor lastly, of the blood of so many hundred thousands slaughtered men, women, and children, by such uncivil and unchristian wars and combustions about the Christian faith and religion.
…the state of the people [of Israel] shall appear unmatchable, but only by the true church and Israel of God.
First, the people of Israel were all the seed or offspring of one man Abraham, Ps. 105:6… Only the spiritual Israel and seed of God the newborn are but one: Christ is the seed, Gal 3 and they only that are Christs are only Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.
This spiritual seed is the only antitype of the former figurative and typical: a seed which all Christians ought to propagate, yeah even the unmarried men and women (who are not capable of natural offspring) for thus is this called the seed of Christ (who lived and died unmarried) Is 59:21.
… I therefore thirdly add, that only such as are Abraham’s seed, circumcised in heart, newborn, Israel (or wrestlers with God) are the antitype of the former Israel, these are only the holy nation (1 Pet 2) wonderfully redeemed from the Egypt of this world (Titus 2:14) brought through the Red Sea of baptism (1 Cor 10) through the wilderness of afflictions and the peoples (Deut 8; Ezek 20) into the kingdom of heaven begun below, even that Christian land of promise, where flow the everflowing streams and rivers of spiritual milk and honey.
…This people of Israel in the national state were a type of all the children of God in all ages under the profession of the gospel, who are therefore called the children of Abraham, and the Israel of God, Gal 3 & 6. A kingly priesthood and holy nation (1 Pet 2:9) in a clear and manifest antitype to the former Israel, Exod 19:6.
Hence Christians are now figuratively in this respect called Jews, Rev. 3 where lies a clear distinction of the true and false Christian under the consideration of true and false Jew: Behold I will make them of the Synagogue of Satan that say they are Jews and are not, but do lie, Rev. 3. But such a typical respect we find not now upon any people, nation, or country of the whole world: But out of all nations, tongues and languages is God pleased to call some and redeemed them to himself (Rev 5:9). And hath made no difference between the Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and Scithians, Gal 3, who by regeneration or second birth become the Israel of God, Gal 6. the temple of God, 1 Cor 3. and the true Jerusalem, Heb 12.
Peace. It seems (dear Truth) a mighty gulf between that people and nation, and the nations of the world then extant and ever since.
Truth. As sure as the blessed substance to all those shadows, Christ Jesus is come, so unmatchable and never to be paralleled by any national state was that Israel in the figure or shadow.
And yet the Israel of God now, the regenerate or newborn, the circumcised in heart by repentance and mortification, who willingly submit unto the Lord Jesus as their only king and head, may fitly parallel and answer that Israel in the type, without such danger of hypocrisy, of such horrible prophanations, and of firing the civil state in such bloody combustions, as all ages have brought forth upon this compelling a whole nation or kingdom to be the antitype of Israel.