An early 18th century joint statement on religious liberty by a Presbyterian and a Reformed Baptist

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The case of Edward Marston, an Anglican minister in Charleston, South Carolina was remarkable for its time, because at the time he delivered his controversial sermon on the Fifth Commandment (October 15, 1704) the colony of South Carolina was governed by the Anglican establishment — but it was some notable Dissenters who came to his defense. Marston argued in his sermon that ministers of the gospel were superior (not accountable) to civil authorities (in spiritual matters), while at the same time claiming that ministers were due monetary maintenance “by Divine Right.”

We (Ministers of the Gospel do not arrogate too much to our selves, nor take too much upon us, when we affirm, That we are superior to the People, and have an Authority over them in Things Spiritual, and appertaining to God.

These claims angered the legislature, which had recently passed the Establishment Act and the Preservation Act, intended to assert more government control over the pulpit, and, it was said, led to his public whipping.

Daniel Defoe, the noted novelist and Presbyterian Dissenter, published two tracts about the church and state conflicts that took place in in early colonial South Carolina, the second of which is titled The Case of Protestant Dissenters in Carolina, Shewing How a Law to Prevent Occasional Conformity There, Has Ended in the Total Subversion of the Constitution in Church and State (1706). Within this fascinating volume, Defoe included an 1704 affidavit by the Reformed Baptist minister William Screven (c. 1629-1713) and the Scottish-American Presbyterian minister Archibald Stobo (about whom we have written before here). These two ministers jointly affirmed that they had reviewed Marston’s sermon and agreed with him that he should be free from civil review of his sermon, and also that it was proper from him to receive government maintenance. Moreover, they noted that the quote about ministerial superiority was derived from the 1692 Exposition of the Ten Commandments by Bishop Ezekiel Hopkins, a clearly approved Anglican source.

Ultimately, the case of Edward Marston was decided by the British Parliament, which ruled that the aforementioned Acts were in violation of the religious freedom guaranteed under the South Carolina Constitution. Queen Anne then nullified those two Acts, which restored the earlier 1697 Act for Granting Liberty of Conscience. Thus it was that two ministers - a Reformed Baptist and a Presbyterian - with help from Daniel Defoe, came to the aid of the Anglican Edward Marston, for the benefit of South Carolina Dissenters. The affidavit by Screven and Stobo can be read here.