Freedom of Religion
On the day before his execution, Covenanter James Boig—a young theological student—tells his brother why he opposes attempts by Charles II to restore the right of royalty to impose a state religion.
… which the king hath usurped over the Church. By our doing of this, we should rob Christ of that which is his right: and give that unto a man, which is due to no mortal …
EFTER oppining and reading of the whilk verdict of assyse, the lords justice clerk and commissioners of justiciary therfor be the mouth of Andrew Cuninghame, dempster of court, decerned and adjudged the said Mr. Donald Cargill, Mr. James Boig, Mr. Walter Smith, William Thomson and William Coothill to be taken to the market croce of Edinburgh, to morrow being the twentie sevinth instant, betwixt two and four o’clock in the efternoon, and ther to be hanged on a gibbet, till they be dead, and therefter ther heads to be severed from their bodies, and the said Mr. Donald Cargill, Mr. James Boig, and Mr. Walter Smith’s heads to be affixt on the Netherbowe, and the heads of the saids William Thomson and William Coothill to be affixt on the west port, and ther names memory and honours to be extinct, and ther armes to be riven furth and delate out of the bookes of armes, sure that ther posteritie may never have place nor be able herefter to bruck or ioyse any honours, offices, or dignities within this realme, in tyme comeing, and to have forfault, ammitted, and tint all and sundrie ther lands, heretages, tenements, annual rents, offices, titles, dignities, tacks, steadings, roumes, possessions, goods and gear whatsomever, pertaining to them, to our soveraigne lord, to remaine perpetuallie with his highnes, in propertie. Which was pronounced for doom, and wherupon his majesties advocat asked, and took instruments.—T.B.Howell, A Complete Collection of State Trials and Proceedings for High Treason and Other Crimes and Misdemeanors (1816).
The Last Testimony of Mr. James Boig, Student of Theology, who suffered at the Cross of Edinburgh, July 27, 1681, written in a letter to his brother.
I HAVE not now time to write that which I would but to satisfy your desire, and the desire of others, who are concerned in the cause and work of God, that is now at this time trampled upon; I have given out my indictment to a friend of yours, and now I shall give you an account of the enemies prosecution thereof against us. My indictment did run upon three heads. 1. That I had disowned the king’s authority. 2dly. That I said, the rising in arms at Bothwell-bridge, was lawful, and upon the defence of truth. 3dly, That I owned the Sanquhar Declaration, in the whole heads and articles thereof. And having again owned this before the justiciary and assizers, I held my peace, and spake no more; because I saw what was spoken by others, was not regarded, either by our unjust judges, or mocking auditors: all that our speaking did, was the exposing of us to the mockery of all present. But the reasons that were given in this, for our defence in the first head, were, that we could not own the authority, as now presently established, unless we should also own the supremacy, which the king hath usurped over the Church. By our doing of this, we should rob Christ of that which is his right: and give that unto a man, which is due to no mortal: The reason is, because the supremacy is declared in their acts of parliament, to be essential to the crown; and that which is essential to any thing, is the same with the thing itself; so that in owning the authority, we are of necessity obliged to justify them in their usurpation also. But there is another argument which to me is valid, though I spoke it not before them: and it does not a little trouble me, that I should have passed it. The advocate in his discourse to the assizers, among other things, said, that we were overturning these acts and laws, which they (the assizers) had consented to, and were owning. Now I suppose their consent to the present acts and laws was never formally required of them, but that which is taken for their consent, is their simple silence, when these acts were made and published, and owning these parliaments as their representatives, so that I may clearly argue from this, that even in their own sense, my owning of the present authority now established as lawful, and the present magistrates as my magistrates, is a giving my consent to the present acts and laws, and so consequently to the robbing of Christ of that which is his right. As to the second it being but one particular fact, deduced from that principle of self-defence, and this principle being as positively asserted by all of us, I look upon the principle to be as expresly sealed with our blood, as that particular fact of rising in arms at Bothwel-bridge is. As to the third, it being a deed consequential from the first, I look upon them both to stand and fall together, and he that owneth the first, must of necessity own the last also. And as to that of declaring of war, I did always look upon it to be one and the same though differently expressed, with that contained in the paper, found at the Ferry, and that the main design of it, was to vindicate us before the world, in our repelling unjust violence, and clearing us of these aspersions, that were cast upon us, viz. The holding as a principle the lawfulness of private assassinations, (which we disown), and murdering all those, who are not of the same judgment with us. These are the truths, which we are to seal with our blood, to morrow in the afternoon, at the cross of Edinburgh. As to other particular actions, we declined to answer positively to them, as that of the bishop’s death, we told them, we could not be judges of other mens actions: As to the excommunication, because we declined them, as not competent judges, to cognosce upon an ecclesiastic matter, they did not proceed upon it.
And now, dear brother, you may see our quarrel clearly stated, to be the same that Mr. James Guthery laid down his head for; beside whose, mine and my other two friends heads are to be set. There were many other things past in private betwixt me and Mr. William Paterson, sometime my regent, now council clerk, with some others who strongly assaulted me with their snares, but now I hope I may say, that “my soul hath escaped like a bird out of the snare of the fowler.” And as to your second desire of knowing how it went with my soul; many and strong have been the assaults of Satan since I came to prison, but glory to God, who hath not been wanting to me in giving me assistance, yea, many times unsought, and he is yet continuing. And I hope shall do to the end, to carry me above the fear of death, to that I am in as sweet a calm, as is I were going to be married to one dearly beloved. Alas my cold heart is not able to answer his burning love! but what is wanting in me, is and shall be made up in a Saviour complete and well furnished in all things appointed of the Father for this end, to bring his straying children to their own home, whereof (I think I may adventure to say it) I am one, though feckless. Now I have no time to enlarge, else I would give you a more particular account of God’s goodness and dealing with me; but let this suffice, that I am once fairly on the way, and within the view of Emmanuel’s land, and in hopes to be received an inhabitant there within the space of 26 hours at most. Farewel all earthly comforts, farewel all wordly amities, farewel all carnal desires, welcome heaven and everlasting happiness, &c. I have no more spare time, Grace mercy and peace be with you. Amen,
From Edinburgh Tolbooth, July 27, 1681.
- ☞ Samuel Rutherford: The Law is King.
- ☞ John Leland: The Rights of Conscience Inalienable.
- ☞ Thomas K. Beecher—Religious Tolerance.
- ☞ John Adams on Canon and Feudal Law.