Colonial Baptists on Rulers by Contract and Religious Taxation as Theft

James Renihan posted a short quote today at the Institute for Reformed Baptist Studies blog from a resolution written by Massachusetts Baptists to the Massachusetts General Assembly (Congress). The quote and historical account provided by Isaac Backus are very helpful in demonstrating some important points about reformed political philosophy.

As I have shown in previous posts (see here and here), reformed political philosophy/theology held that the office of civil magistrate was ordained by God, but the only way any particular individual came to hold that office was by the consent of the people. And the way that consent was given was in the form of a conditional compact, or agreement that limited the individual’s authority to particular duties. If a ruler attempted to wield the sword in any matter beyond what was specified in the compact, he was acting as a private individual, not as a magistrate, and could therefore be resisted. Furthermore, it was held that the people were not able to give the ruler a blank check to be a tyrant. They “cannot resign to others that which they have not in themselves” (Rutherford). Beza said “if any people has consciously and of its free will granted assent to an undertaking which is as such evidently sinful and opposed to the law of nature, such obligation is null and void.”

With that in mind, let’s look at the Massachusetts Baptist resolution.

Our real grievances are, that we, as well as our fathers, have, from time to time, been taxed on religious accounts where we were not represented; and when we have sued for our rights, our causes have been tried by interested judges. That the Representatives in former Assemblies, as well as the present, were elected by virtue only of civil and worldly qualifications, is a truth so evident, that we presume it need not be proved to this Assembly; and for a civil Legislature to impose religious taxes, is, we conceive, a power which their constituents never had to give; and is therefore going entirely out of their jurisdiction… Under the legal dispensation, where God himself prescribed the exact proportion of what the people were to give, yet none but persons of the worst characters ever attempted to take it by force. 1 Sam. 2:12, 16; Mich. 3:5-9. How daring then, must it be for any to do it for Christ’s ministers, who says, My kingdom is not of this world!… We beseech this honorable Assembly to take these matters into their wise and serious consideration, before him who has said, With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again. Is not all America now appealing to heaven against the injustice of being taxed where we are not represented, and against being judged by men who are interested in getting away our money? And will heaven approve of your doing the same thing to your fellow servants? No, surely… We have no desire of representing this government as the worst of any who have imposed religious taxes; we fully believe the contrary. Yet, as we are persuaded that an entire freedom from being taxed by civil rulers to religious worship, is not a mere favor, from any man or men in the world, but a right and property granted us by God, who commands us to stand fast in it, we have not only the same reason to refuse an acknowledgement of such a taxing power here, as America has the above-said power, but also, according to our present light, we should wrong our consciences in allowing that power to men, which we believe belongs only to God.

(take from Isaac Backus’ History of New England Baptists, Vol. 2, p. 203-204)

Massachusetts required all citizens to pay a tax to support their parish minister. Baptists refused to. From the above, we can see that they argued Massachusetts had no jurisdiction to use force to take money from them to pay a minister they did not support because that was “a power which their constituents never had to give” to the rulers. The people did not have the authority to require anyone to financially support a minister they did not voluntarily support, therefore they could not give that authority to the civil magistrate in the compact. Therefore they did not have that authority and were out of their jurisdiction to require it, and therefore the Baptists could ignore them.

Backus explained the principle.

The first Baptist minister in America publicly held forth, that all righteous government is founded in compact, expressed or implied; so that every officer, whether succeeding or elected, who intermeddles in any matter not fairly derived from thence, goes beyond his commission. (Vol II, 198)

He was referring to Roger Williams. In Volume 1, Backus provides a summary of Williams’ lengthy debate with John Cotton on religious liberty. He provides this quote from Williams.

Every lawful magistrate, whether succeeding or elected, is not only the minister of God, but the minister or servant of the people also (what people or nation soever they be, all the world over) and that minister or magistrate goes beyond his commission, who intermeddles with that which cannot be given him in commission from the people, unless Master Cotton can prove that all the people and inhabitants of all the nations in the world have spiritual power, Christ’s power, naturally, fundamentally, and originally residing in them, to rule Christ’s spouse, the church, and to give spiritual power to their officers to exercise their spiritual laws and commands; otherwise it is but profaning the holy name of the Most High. It is but flattering of magistrates, it is but the accursed trusting to an arm of flesh, to persuade rulers of the earth that they are kings of the Israel or church of God, who were in their institutions and government immediately from God, the rulers of his holy church and people. W., p. 96. (quoted in Backus, Vol. I, 142)

Williams’ point, with which the Baptists agreed and argued from, was that “the people” do not possess any authority to use force to govern the affairs of the church, therefore they cannot give that authority to a ruler, therefore no ruler has that authority.

The Baptists went on to say “as we are persuaded that an entire freedom from being taxed by civil rulers to religious worship, is not a mere favor, from any man or men in the world.” They are referring to the fact that Massachusetts had allowed certain approved non-established churches to make a list of the people who regularly attended their church and then send that list to the state to obtain a certificate that would exempt them from the established church tax. Backus notes “no tongue nor pen can fully describe all the evils that were practiced under it.” In representing the Baptists amongst Delegates to Congress, Backus said “it is absolutely a point of conscience with me; for I cannot give in the certificates they require without implicitly acknowledging that power in man which I believe belongs only to God.” (202 fn 2)

From these points, the Baptists concluded “an entire freedom from being taxed by civil rulers to religious worship, is not a mere favor, from any man or men in the world, but a right and property granted us by God.” That is, religious taxation was theft.

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.

*Chapters cx.-cxiv

The Bloudy Tenent, p. 417



…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.

p. 323



… 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.

p. 327



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.

p. 330