Samuel Rutherford and Kinism

Introduction

There is a Faith and Heritage article by Nathaniel Strickland wherein Mr. Strickland provides some quotes from Samuel Rutherford’s famous work Lex Rex. Mr. Strickland claims that, in Lex Rex, Rutherford “touches on the ethnic nature of the law of kin rule in Deut. 17:15.” The “Law of Kin Rule,” as I discussed in a previous article, is the Kinist notion that Deuteronomy 17:15 is a divine command for governments to be led by those who come from among the people’s own ethnic lineage. In fact, to Kinism, to consent to someone ethnically different ruling over you is an act of treason against God:

Even if a native ruler, under pretense of law, sold his people out to a foreign power, the people should not consent to it. To do so would be lawlessness and treason to the nation, and ultimately to God Himself, because it is God who designed mankind to live tribally and codified that order in the strictures of His Word. [source]

In the aforementioned article from Mr. Strickland, he provides the quotations from Rutherford in favor of the Law of Kin Rule, adding afterward:

Isn’t it funny how the modern church “discovered” that Deut. 17:15 is actually talking about religion and not ethnicity only after it had completely succumbed to cultural Marxism? Historical Christianity held the opposite view.

(Granted, as I showed in my Law of Kin Rule article, even John Calvin, who lived long before the rise of Cultural Marxism, saw the verse as one in regards to religion and not ethnicity – but, as previously seen, Kinists are unable to respond to that without diverting the topic. Also, since Historical Christianity has come up, let’s ask who, before the rise of Kinism, thought Rahab wasn’t a Gentile, or who, before the rise of Kinism, didn’t believe she was the Rahab mentioned in Matthew 1:5.)

One will notice that the quotations, as provided by Mr. Strickland, make use of an extravagant use of ellipses. My own personal experience has taught me to always be wary when such things are seen, and therefore it might be worth going over each quotation from Mr. Strickland, and seeing if, as Mr. Carlton argues, Samuel Rutherford really did argue along the lines of the Kinist view of Deuteronomy 17.

The Quotes in Context

Deut. 17:15 demands that for the purposes of governance God’s people are to ‘choose one from amongst their brethren’ only and…the fifth commandment layeth obedience to the king on us no less than to our parents… (Q.III, p.4) 

The first part I actually cannot find in this section of Lex Rex, therefore I’m not certain where Mr. Strickland obtained it. I even ran the quote through Google Books, and the only thing which came back was Mr. Strickland’s article.

The second part, regarding the fifth commandment, is actually from a series of arguments Rutherford is quoting from those who support the idea of monarchy as a divine institution to which we must pledge loyalty; Rutherford expands on this later, saying such obligation is upon us for all government systems. He even discusses about when “a republic appoints rulers to govern them,” the people are committing a “moral action” as having no rulers at all is itself a breach of the fifth commandment. Furthermore, Rutherford goes into greater detail to refute some of the more extreme applications of this fifth commandment, which we will see momentarily. The point is, at this moment, that the citation has nothing to do with a “Law of Kine Rule.”

…[E]very foal to its dam… [T]he primary law of nations is indeed the law of nature, as appropriated to man…for it is better that my father govern over me than a stranger govern me, and, therefore, the Lord forbade his people to set a stranger over themselves to be their king. The Prelate contendeth for the contrary…but a man’s father was born only by nature subject to his own father, therefore…there is no government natural, but fatherly and marital… (Q.XIII, pp.51-52)

Here is the “every foal to its dam” quote in its fuller context:

Man by nature is born free, and as free as beasts; but by nature no beast, no lion is born king of lions; no horse, no bullock, no eagle, king of horses, bullocks, or eagles. Nor is there any subjection here, except that the young lion is subject to the old, every foal to its dam; and by that same law of nature, no man is born king of men, nor any man subject to man in a civil subjection by nature, (I speak not of natural subjection of children to parents,) and therefore Ferdi. Vasquez (illustr. quest. lib. 2, c. 82, n. 6,) said, that kingdoms and empires were brought in, not by nature’s law, but by the law of nations. He expoundeth himself elsewhere to speak of the law of nature secondary, otherwise the primary law of nations is indeed the law of nature, as appropriate to man. [Q. 13; Argument 3]

This quotation dealt with Rutherford’s contention that, just as no animal is born with an inherent superiority over other animals, neither is any man born, just by their being born, as king over other men. When a cow is born to a cow family, Rutherford argues, nothing about that cow itself makes it better, or more esteemed, over other cows. This is the “law of nature” Rutherford speaks of – it has nothing to do with an ethnostate.

Here is the second (and third) part of Strickland’s quotation, again in context:

What is from the womb, and so natural, is eternal, and agreeth to all societies of men; but a monarchy agreeth not to all societies of men; for many hundred years, de facto, there was not a king till Nimrod’s time, the world being governed by families, and till Moses’ time we find no institution for kings (Gen. vii) and the numerous multiplication of mankind did occasion monarchies, otherwise, fatherly government being the first and measure of the rest, must be the best; for it is better that my father govern me, than that a stranger govern me, and, therefore, the Lord forbade his people to set a stranger over themselves to be their king. The P. Prelate contendeth for the contrary, (c. 12, p. 125,) “Every man (saith he) is born subject to his father, of whom immediately he hath his existence in nature; and if his father be the subject of another, he is born the subject of his father’s superior.” – Ans. But the consequence is weak. Every man is born under natural subjection to his father, therefore he is born naturally under civil subjection to his father’s superior or king. It followeth not. Yeah, because his father was born only by nature subject to his own father, therefore he was subject to a prince or king only by accident, and by the free constitution of men, who freely choose politic government, where there is no government natural, but fatherly or marital, and therefore the contradictory consequence is true. [Q. 13, Argument 7]

In the fuller context, we see that Rutherford was responding to the idea that a king is a “natural” form of government, especially in regards to one’s subjection to someone else. The argument itself, as quoted by Rutherford, was that “if his father be the subject of another, he is born the subject of his father’s superior.” This was applied not only to foreign-born kings, but even to all government: a man is born subject to his father naturally, but to a prince or king “only by accident.”

Rutherford’s appeal to Deuteronomy 17 in this section is not to support the Kinist view of an ethnostate, but from the line of thinking that, since the only “natural” government seen in scripture was the local family unit, then it was only “natural” for God to ask the Hebrews to pick one of their own over them (that is, of the family of Jacob), rather than someone completely unrelated to them. This is the “fatherly or marital” form of government Rutherford speaks on. While it can be admitted Rutherford is speaking of the importance of the family unit, it must again be pointed out, from the fuller context, that it has nothing to do with advocating an ethnostate like Kinists and many on the altright advance. Rutherford is not attempting to argue, as Kinists conclude, that nations ruled by someone of another ethnic group are in sin, or in violation of a divine command. Rather, his argument is that a “fatherly government” is more natural than a monarchy, as such governments existed long before kings appeared on the scene.

Again, while Kinists often argue by equivocating “family” and “ethnicity” or “race” as being one and the same (hence their very name), for them to harp on Rutherford’s words here is to place the emphasis on the wrong syllable. Rutherford is not looking at Deuteronomy 17 the same way Kinists do with these quotes.

God hath made them heads of the tribes and princes of the people…it is well said that he the king is a son to them, and they, his maker… What the king doth as king, he doeth it for the happiness of his people. The king is a relative. (Q.XXV, pp.120-124)

This final citation, as hinted by the reference to five pages, draws from several different contexts. The first:

2. The Prelate lieth when he maketh us to reason from the safety of the subject to the destruction of the king. Ferne, Barclay, Grotius, taught the hungry scholar to reason so. Where read he this? The people must be saved, that is the supreme law, therefore, destroy the king. The devil and the Prelate both shall not fasten this on us. But thus we reason: when the man who is the king endeavoureth not the end of his royal place, but, through bad counsel, the subversion of laws, religion, and bondage of the kingdom, the free estates are to join with him for that end of safety, according as God hath made them heads of tribes and princes of the people; and if the king refuses to join with them, and will not do his duty, I see not how they are in conscience liberated before God from doing their part. [Question 15]

Rutherford was responding to the contention that the safety of the king was tied to the safety of the people, and hence took priority. His response was that, if the king be following bad counsel, then the other parts of society are to undo the matter, and if the king refuses to join, then they must work against the will of the king. That is, the safety of the state, the people, and the religion took priority over any supposed comfort of the king. As Rutherford says later on: “We endeavor nothing more than the safety and happiness of the king, as king; but his happiness is not to suffer him to destroy his subjects, subvert religion, [or] arm papists…” In fact, the “them” quoted by Mr. Strickland, as if it applies to kings, in fact refers to the “free estates” (meaning the other parts of societies).

The second citation provided by Mr. Strickland, in context:

The third is but a repetition. The acts of royalty (saith the Observator) are acts of duty and obligation, therefore, not acts of grace properly so called; therefore we may not thank the king for a courtesy. This is no consequence. What fathers do to children are acts of natural duty and of natural grace, and yet children owe gratitude to parents, and subjects to good kings, in a legal sense. No, but in way of courtesy only. The observator said, the king is not a father to the whole collective body, and it is well said he is son to them, and they his maker. Who made the king? Policy answereth, The State made him, and divinity, God made him. [Question 15]

Two things of note here:

First, the reference to father and son is not in reference to ethnic lineage, but rather an analogy of loyalty: just as a son is loyal to a father, so is a subject loyal to his king.

Second, this is actually a reference to an argument made by the person Rutherford is writing against. Rutherford proceeds to write a response to it, saying that “power is not an immediate inheritance from heaven, but a birthright of the people borrowed from them; they may let it out for their good, and resume it when a man is drunk with it.”

The final quotation from this section by Mr. Strickland, quoted in full context.

The Prelate (p. 172) vexeth the reader with repetitions, and saith, The king must proportion his government to the safety of the people on the one hand, and to his own safety and power on the other hand. Ans. – What the king doth as king, he doeth it for the happiness of his people. The king is a relative; yea, even his own happiness that he seeketh, he is to refer to the good of God’s people. He saith farther, The safety of the people includeth the safety of the king, because the word populous is so taken; which he proveth by a raw, sickly rabble of words, stolen out of Passerat’s dictionary. His father, the schoolmaster, may whip him for frivolous etymologies. [Question 15]

Rutherford was reaffirming his argument that the king’s duty is not to attend to his own royal office, but to oversee and guard the well being of his people. When he speaks of the king being a “relative,” he means so, clearly from the context, as being one of “God’s people.” If you read Lex Rex, the importance of the government in protecting the household of faith comes across quite clear in Rutherford’s thinking, especially in regards to the king defending God’s people from Roman Catholics and other heretics. In other words, it has nothing to do with an ethnostate, or whether having a foreigner rule over you makes you a traitor to your Lord.

Concluding Thoughts

From all this, three things become clear. First, very little of these quotes actually deal directly with Deuteronomy 17, or cite it as the basis for its conclusions. (In fact, many of them were simply responding to philosophical arguments from monarchists). Second, it becomes clear that Samuel Rutherford, contrary to Kinist claims, is not a strong source to turn to in an attempt to cite as an example of “historical Reformed thought” in regards to the Kinist doctrine of a Law of Kin Rule. Even the one moment where Rutherford makes a reference to similar kin ruling over their brethren (the “fatherly government” section) proves to be much weaker than Kinists perceive it to be. Third, Mr. Strickland is guilty either of irresponsibly using second-hand sources for the quotes (hence the erroneous citations), or irresponsibly mishandling the quotations provided to advocate his own Kinist position. Some of them were used wildly out of context, and present an entirely different conclusion when looked in a fuller reading (eg., the “king is a relative” quote).

Oftentimes Kinists will claim to be part of Historical Christianity, and will cite passages from past figures in an attempt to prove this claim. When examined, as we did here, those claims prove to be superficial.

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