Westminster Divines on Private Property

The Westminster divines no doubt were aware of an infamous attempt at a communist society in Protestant Europe. In 1534 the Dutch radical reformer John of Leyden took control of the nearby German city of Münster. He sought to establish an eschatological utopia. He outlawed private property, instituted communism, introduced polygamy, and had himself proclaimed king of Münster; he lasted only about a year before being conquered by the surrounding army. His brief reign ended with his torture and death, along with widespread grief and desolation. This experiment in practical communism greatly tarnished the reputation of the radical reformation; even peaceful Anabaptists suffered for it. 

Another experiment closer to the time of the Westminster Assembly took place in the Pilgrim colony in America at Plymouth. When the Pilgrims first landed in 1620, they established a communist system. However, before long that system proved itself a failure, and they switched to a free enterprise system, with excellent results. Unlike the Münster experiment, Plymouth provided an ideal test, with committed pious individuals with one united purpose. Yet even with that advantage, the system failed. 

The colony’s governor, William Bradford later wrote his account of the colony, in which he described this experiment. 

The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some