Robert Rollock, a Ridiculously Neglected Theologian

Robert Rollock’s works have just been reprinted. Buy them. Rollock has been terribly neglected by the scholarly world, although that picture is changing. Muller has drawn attention to Rollock recently. However, the above-mentioned reprint should be instrumental in getting Rollock’s name back on the map of important post-Reformational thinkers. Rollock lived from 1555-1598. He was involved in some ecclesiastical controversies, where it was thought that he sided too much with the king (see the excellent biographical introduction in the two-volume set by Andrew Woolsey). Andrew Woolsey thinks that this is the reason why he has been unfairly neglected (p. 20).

However, Rollock’s influence in British theology is much like George Whitefield’s influence on Methodism, unrecognized but pervasive. Woolsey goes on to mention Gunn’s appraisal of Rollock: “It is Rollock’s greatest glory that he introduced into Scotland the expository system, which had already so much benefited religion on the Continent” (ibid.) Furthermore, it was his several commentaries that provided inspiration for the later Scottish commentaries by David Dickson, George Hutcheson, James Ferguson, and Alexander Nisbet (p. 21).

There are 17 sermons in the first volume, and 56 in the second volume, which volume is entirely taken up with the passion of Christ. Woolsey’s opinion is that Rollock’s sermons most closely resemble Beza and Calvin (p. 21). It is to be noted that Beza thought very highly of Rollock’s works, calling his Ephesians and Romans commentaries “a treasure most precious” (p. 9).

Undoubtedly, however, the greatest impact Rollock has had in the history of theology is in the doctrine of the covenant. In this theology, he closely resembles Ussher, who is one of the precursors to the Westminster Assembly’s theology (p. 16). He advocated a firmly bi-covenantal theology, wherein the principle by which Adam would have obtained eternal life was works, though he (as well as most other Reformed theologians) did not deny the presence of grace before the Fall. Christ then stepped in to Adam’s brokenness, and merited eternal life by fulfilling the covenant of works. This righteousness is then imputed to the believer by faith in justification (see pp. 11-16, 33-51). In short, if you want to know where Westminster’s theology of covenant came from, you have to study Rollock. Highly recommended. It is to be hoped that his commentaries will shortly be reprinted as well. I imagine that will depend on how well the two-volume works sell. So buy them!



  1. March 28, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    […] I have published a small review of them here. […]

  2. thomasgoodwin said,

    March 28, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Rollock’s commentaries on Ephesians and Romans won praise from Beza who mentions that he had ‘never read in this kind of interpretation any thing exceeding them in elegance and sound judgment united with brevity’ … I hope those two commentaries are part of the ‘selected works’.

  3. greenbaggins said,

    March 28, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Unfortunately, they are not. As was noted, I hope that the works are well-bought so that the commentaries will also again see the light of day.

  4. thomasgoodwin said,

    March 28, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Maybe Beza’s quote is enough to get RHB into action?

  5. greenbaggins said,

    March 28, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    This is what they say on the site for the two volumes: “May they whet the appetite for more of this prolific Scotsman, who wrote five volumes of sermons and nine commentaries.” Sounds like they’re going to use this as a trial run to see if it would be profitable to sell the commentaries and more of the sermons. Sounds reasonable to me.

  6. March 29, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    hey man thanks for the review!

  7. GLW Johnson said,

    March 29, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    You are one incredible dude. Really.

  8. Tom Wenger said,

    March 29, 2008 at 9:44 pm


    Why are you so afraid or ashamed to tell us what church you are a member of?

  9. March 29, 2008 at 10:17 pm


    He already told us, remember? It’s the one from the Bible. Try to keep up. Really…

  10. ReformedSinner (DC) said,

    March 30, 2008 at 2:16 am

    Is rey serious?

  11. RBerman said,

    March 30, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    How much attention should a troll get, in how many threads? Come, gentlemen.

    I found it helpful to study the use of the word and concept “covenant” in 17th Century Scottish culture. It was not primarily a theological term, but occupied a position of prominence roughly equal to “liberty” or “democracy” in America today, owing to the numerous covenants in which the Scots pledged to band together against enemies foreign and domestic.

  12. Lee said,

    March 31, 2008 at 2:54 am

    Far be it from me to dispute with you Lane, but I have a few minor disagreements/questions.

    First, are you saying that the Covenant of Works was the not norm in England around the late 1500’s and Rollock helped introduce it, or are you simply saying that Rollock did a fine job of expositing the Covenant of Works?

    Second, what support can you offer the Rollock has to be studied to understand the source of the Westminster Confession’s theology of the covenant? After all Rollock is a Scotsman, and the Assembly was mostly Englishmen.

    I would argue that the bi-covenantal approach was firmly entrenched in England by the late 1500’s. Take for example John Dod (1559-1645). Dod was a Puritan Englishmen, who was popular during his time and known as the Decalogist. His catechism published along with his “Plaine and Familiar Exposition on the 10 Commandments” has a thoroughly bi-covenantal view.

    He states, “What are the parts of the Word? The law and gracious promise: (otherwise called covenant of works and the covenant of grace) which from the coming of Christ is called the Gospel.” He then goes on to explain the Covenant of Works that Adam would have had eternal life had he fulfilled it. Dod continues to explain that we are given Christ’s “Whole obedience: which consists partly in suffering and partly in fulfilling.” Fulfilling is later explained to be, “Doing the whole law, whereby he purchased righteousness for us.”

    Now I am not saying that one should not run out and purchase the works of Mr. Rollock. I am saying that I think the Scots get too much credit for the Westminster Confession, which is still primarily an English work.

  13. Jeff Waddington said,

    April 1, 2008 at 5:21 am


    You do know about the Scottish Commissioners to the Westminster Assembly? And to segregate the Scots is simply unrealistic.

  14. April 1, 2008 at 8:43 am

    While the Scots Commissioners could not vote, they had enormous influence; plus, all the documents had to be approved by the Scottish GA.

  15. greenbaggins said,

    April 1, 2008 at 10:14 am

    Plus, Rollock’s position on the Covenant of Works is very very similar to Ussher’s position, which had a direct impact on the Assembly’s position.

    As to your first question, I would say that the Covenant of Works was somewhat inchoate at that time, and Rollock provided a great deal of clarity.

  16. Lee said,

    April 1, 2008 at 11:09 am

    Jeff, Chris, and Lane,

    I am aware of the 11 delegates from Scotland (four ministers and seven laymen not all at once). I am not trying to segregate them. I just find it hard to believe that these 11 men domniated over 100 English delegates that include such men as Twisse, Goodwin, Nye, Lightfoot, and many other very recognizable names. There was a large party of English Prebyterians who were at the Assembly before the Scots showed up. And it should be noted that the command to make a Presbyterian form of government came from the English Parliament, which not surprisingly was dominated by Presbyterians.

    My point is simply that I do not believe the Scots brought new dogma to the English at the Assembly. I am begining to believe that the Covenant of Works was not inchoate at the time, but rather already known, in wide use, and in its current form. You have already pointed out Rollock and Ussher, and I have pointed out Dod. Here are three contemporaries from Ireland, Scotland, and England who are all propagating the same doctrine of the Covenant of Works found in the Assembly. Perhaps this should lead us to challenge the idea that the CoW was inchoate.

    That is my point.

  17. greenbaggins said,

    April 1, 2008 at 11:15 am

    None of said they dominated the Assembly. We just said that they influenced more than their numbers would indicate.

  18. Lee said,

    April 1, 2008 at 11:50 am

    I can agree to that. However, I do not think that they brought the doctrine of the Covenant of Works with them. I think that was already prevelant.

  19. Lee said,

    April 1, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Let me clarify. What I mean is that I think the Covenant of Works was already there in England. I do NOT mean to say that the Scots did not hold to the CoW.

  20. Steven W said,

    April 2, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    I’ve been trying to get folks to read Rollock myself:

    You’ve gotta love his Old Scottish too. “lichltie,” “wasching,” and “quhairby” are some of my favs.

  21. Eugene McKinnon said,

    July 7, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    By any chance did Rollock write anything on the Lord’s Supper? I’m interested in doing a ThM on the reformation of the Lord’s Supper in Scotland with special emphasis on how they reformed it from transubstantiation to ‘symbolic presence’ or whatever stance they arrived at. I want to know before I purchase the two volumes.


    Eugene McKinnon

  22. greenbaggins said,

    July 7, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    Welcome to my blog, Eugene. I wish you well on your thesis. There is not an entire treatise on the Lord’s Supper. Rollock has plenty of polemics against Roman Catholicism. However, they are more directed at the doctrine of Scripture and the doctrine of covenant. Unfortunately, there is no index to the two volumes. If there is any discussion of the LS, is a bit buried.

  23. greenbaggins said,

    July 7, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    But you should buy the volumes anyway.

  24. Eugene McKinnon said,

    July 12, 2008 at 9:15 am

    OK. I would like to purchase them. Do you know of any other sixteenth century Scottish theologians who spoke on the LS. I have purchased Robert Bruce’s Mystery of Lord’s Supper. I know that Knox wrote on it, but are their anymore?
    Keep me posted Green Baggins


  25. greenbaggins said,

    July 12, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Eugene, it looks like Bryan Spinks has a book directly on your topic:

    Certainly John Erskine has something you might want to pursue:

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