Authority in Magistrates, Liberty in the People, Purity in the Church – John Cotton

John Cotton by Smibert , 1 January 1735, Copyright of Photo in Public Domain.CALLED UNTO LIBERTY, 17TH CENTURY SERMONS

John Cotton, 1636

In 1636 letter to Lord Say and Seale, John Cotton, addressing concerns about the theocratic tendencies in the government of the Bay Colony, defends, quite ably and thought provokingly, the Christian doctrine and political principle that church and state ought to compliment each other rather than be confounded (or joined together) – which latter concept he strongly opposed. He then summarizes the ideal relationship between the state  (or magistrates), the people (including liberty, and the democratic element manifest in voting rights), and the church, as he sees it:

… Nor need we fear that this course will in time cast the commonwealth into distractions and popular confusions. For (under correction) these three things do not undermine, but do mutually and strongly maintain one another (even those three which we principally am at) – authority in magistrates, liberty in people, purity in the church. Purity, preserved in the church, will preserve well-ordered liberty in the people, and both of them establish well-balanced authority in the magistrates. God is the author of all these three, and neither is himself the God of confusion, nor are his ways the ways of confusion, but of peace. …


Source: John Cotton. 1636 letter to Lord Say and Seale as originally found in Thomas Hutchinson’s “History of the Colony of Massachusetts-Bay, London, 1760, Volume I, 496-501. Above language has been modernized in “A Treasury of American Literature”, Volume 1, Selected and edited by Joe Lee Davis, John T. Frederick, Frank Luther Mott, 1948, Charles Scribner Sons, p. 246-250.


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