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1689 Federalism & America’s Founding

February 22, 2017 1 comment

Did the subservient covenant view (which is brought to its logical conclusion and fullest expression in 1689 Federalism) have anything to do with the shift in theology that resulted in the 1788 American revision of the Westminster Confession and the founding of the United States? It would appear so.

William Findley (c. 1741 – April 4, 1821) was an Irish-born farmer and politician from Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. He served in both houses of the state legislature and represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. House from 1791 until 1799 and from 1803 to 1817. By the end of his career, he was the longest serving member of the House, and was the first to hold the honorary title “Father of the House”. He was an anti-federalist (arguing that the proposed constitution established a general government and destroyed the individual governments, which turned out to be true) and opposed the first central bank. He was also at one point a Presbyterian ruling elder.

He was born into a strict Covenanter family in Ireland (both his father and grandfather were Covenanters). He educated himself from a young age on his father’s large library. However, Findley eventually came to reject the Covenanter beliefs and was influential in altering American views.

[M]y great esteem for, and confidence in, those who prescribed these rules, and testified even to the death for them, made it long before I durst trust my own judgment in calling them in question. My early prepossessions against other denominations, as unsound and unfaithful, also discouraged my enquiry… On this subject I conversed with the minister, and gave my reasons in writing… I was equally averse to withdrawing from the communion of brethren, in whose piety I had great confidence, without giving such reasons as I judged, on due deliberation, might probably have equal weight with them. The subject was held under deliberation, while I withheld my child from baptism. Finally, it was discussed in full presbytery, accompanied by extra-judicial conference, in which I bore a part. The result was an agreement… [that] was unanimously adopted.

-Observations on Two Sons of Oil, p. 211-217

In 1803 a Covenanter pastor in Philadelphia named Samuel B. Wylie wrote The Two Sons of Oil; or, The Faithful Witness for Magistracy and Ministry Upon a Scriptural Basis in which he argued that the United States was an illegitimate government because it allowed liberty of conscience and therefore did not have to be obeyed. Here is a :90 overview

In 1812 Findley responded with Observations on “The Two Sons of Oil”. I stumbled upon Findley after reading Steven Wedgeworth’s helpful essay “THE TWO SONS OF OIL” AND THE LIMITS OF AMERICAN RELIGIOUS DISSENT.

Findley’s work is really helpful because it shows the thinking of American Presbyterians at the founding of the United States. How did they go from the 1646 establishmentarianism of the Westminster Confession (the Covenanter view) to the 1788 American revision? I’ll make another post in the future summarizing Findley’s political philosophy, but here I just want to highlight the surprising similarities between Findley’s arguments against the Covenanter position and the arguments that I and others have made against the Covenanter position.

1. Moral law = natural law written

“the law of the ten commandments, which is a compend of the moral law of nature” (3)

“the ten commandments, viz. a transcript of the moral law of their nature;” (17)

“The law of the ten commandments was an abstract of the moral law of nature” (18)

“It is evident, from the context [of Romans 2:14-15], that by law here is meant the written law revealed by the prophets; and that by nature, is meant the remains of the law of nature in man, by which their moral conduct is governed; which shews that the office of conscience is the same in all men, whether they have the written word or not.” (79)

2. After the fall, revealed moral law is necessary to properly understand natural law

“That many have exalted human reason above the revealed manifestations of God and his law, I well know… Deists substitute human reason and their knowledge of the law of nature, in the place of supernatural revelation; and thus, like the Jews of old, reject the counsel of God against themselves” (80)

3. All other Mosaic law is positive law

“Every thing in the law of Moses, superadded to the moral law of nature, is positive or voluntary; and, therefore, changeable, according to circumstances and the will of the supreme legislator” (7)

“There is an evident distinction between moral precepts, and positive or voluntary appointments… Of this kind were all the additions made to the moral law, by the Mosaic institutions.” (8)

4. The general equity of Mosaic judicial laws (WCF 19.4) is the moral law

“The general equity of this, or any system, is in so far, the moral law; which, in the next section, those divines declare binds all men for ever.” (26)

“I have stated before, that what of the moral law is incorporated in the judicial law, is binding on all men.” (162)

5. The moral law itself does not prescribe punishment by the sword

“The moral law… prescribes no penalties to be executed by man for the breaches of it… This being the case, it follows of course, that human penalties for breaches of the moral law, are no part of that law itself, as it relates to God” (10)

Remember that Covenanters like Rutherford argued that some form of punishment was part of moral law on the basis of the common law of nations. In the below article, I pointed out there was no Scriptural basis for that claim and that we may not appeal to the common law of nations to determine the matter. What is very worth noting here is that Findley appeals to Scripture to argue that Rutherford and the Covenanters are wrong on this point. I happen to disagree with his argument (that penal laws changed from Cain to Noah to Moses), but the important point is that he sought to establish the point from Scripture, not the common law of nations.

“The penalties of the judicial law were not of moral and universal obligation, because they were not from the beginning. Sixteen hundred and fifty six years had passed away, before the precepts were given to Noah that were equally applicable to all mankind; and 2513 years, before the Israelitish Theocracy was instituted; which only continued to operate in a small territory, during 1491 years; and never was applied to, or intended for, other nations. It could not be administered, but at the place, and by the judges, appointed by God, as the peculiar king of Israel. The moral law of nature was the same before man revolted from God, that it was afterwards; and will continue to be the same for ever. There was no place or use for temporal penalties to be inflicted by man on his fellow men, before that revolt: consequently, they are not the moral law, but were necessarily introduced because of transgression, for the protection of civil society, that men might be enabled to live peaceable lives, in godliness and honesty.” (15)

[Note, I would revise my articulation of this point. Rather than arguing that all punishment by the sword is positive law instituted after the fall I am more inclined to argue that punishment by the sword is an exercise of man’s innate knowledge of lex talionis and its just use is therefore limited to defense and punishment for acts of violence against men.]

6. The Mosaic law is a unit and is thus abolished as a unit

“I find the law of Moses above fifty times expressly named or alluded to in the Old Testament, and as often, at least, in the New Testament, always as one law, and in no place with the distinction of judicial and ceremonial laws. The distinction, however, between moral and positive laws, is easily traced” (24)

Quoting Locke “the law of Moses is not obligatory upon christians. There is nothing more frivolous than that common distinction of moral, judicial and ceremonial law. No positive law can oblige any but those on whom it was enjoined. ‘Hear, O Israel,’ &c. restrains the obligation of the law to that people.—By a mistake of both Christians and Mahometans, it has been applied to other nations. The Israelitish nation themselves never did so, nor do the dispersed Israelites yet do so.” (25)

“the Sinai covenant is abolished; not in part, but wholly abrogated, disannulled, &c… no part of it remains obligatory on christians” (19)

“Having perfect confidence in the prophets and apostles, I do not suspect them of deceit—of saying a thing is vanished away, while it is only separated into two parts:—that instead of the Sinai covenant being abolished, it is divided into two Sinai covenants, the one of which is abolished, and the other remains in full force. If this had been the case, the prophets and apostles, being honest and inspired men, would have told us what was taken away, and what remained. I agree with the apostle Paul, that the whole of the Sinai covenant is abolished,” (94)

“Mr. Wylie, page 23, states, that ‘it is the magistrate’s duty to execute such penalties of the divine law, (meaning the peculiar law of Israel) as are not repealed or mitigated;’ [and another author says] ‘all the laws and precepts contained in the Old Testament, that are not repealed in the New, either by express precept, approven example, or by necessary consequence, are still binding—a law being once given, until it is repealed by the same authority, is still binding.’… Where either of them got the idea of repealing or mitigating divine laws, they have not informed us; certainly, however, they did not get it in their bible… I never read of a law for the mitigation of a law, but in the Sons of Oil. Positive laws have frequently been passed for special and local purposes, that ceased when the purposes were accomplished for which the legislature intended them… so did the whole additions to the moral law, contained in the Sinai covenant of peculiarity, when their object was accomplished, and the intention of the legislator fulfilled. They ceased, or were abrogated, but not repealed or mitigated… Divines have very commonly, for the sake of illustration, spoken of the peculiar law of Israel, under two distinct views, viz. as ceremonial, enjoining and regulating religious rites, and as judicial, regulating the courts of justice, &c. This distinction is often made without any injury to the subject; but having no foundation in the law itself, a precise line of distinction cannot be drawn… Divine wisdom has so intimately connected those precepts together, that they could not be separated. They, as a system, being the symbol or type of the New Testament church, were, like it, one body with many members… I find the law of Moses above fifty times expressly named or alluded to in the Old Testament, and as often, at least, in the New Testament, always as one law, and in no place with the distinction of judicial and ceremonial laws. The distinction, how- ever, between moral and positive laws, is easily traced” (21-24)

“On the freedom from the law of Moses, that great reformer, and emi- nently evangelical divine, Martin Luther, on Galatians iii. 19. shews at large, from the design and circumstances of giving that law, that it was to endure but for a short time, and on the well known allegory of the bond woman and the free—chap. iv. 21, &c. he shews the difference between the Jerusalem that then was, and was in bondage with her children, viz. the Jewish church, and the Jerusalem that is above, viz. the gospel church, which is the mother of all true believers. He agrees with the school doctors in the abolishment of the judicial and ceremonial law—but condemns the different senses they assign to scripture, and particularly their maintaining obedience even to the moral law, as a condition of acceptance with God, and that the unbelieving Jews erred in this respect, as much as in teaching obedience to the law of Moses, as a condition of justification with God. After proving this at large, he says: “There is also another abolish- ment of the law, which is outward, to wit, that the politic laws of Moses do nothing belong unto us.” That is to say, the parts of this law which belong to the civil administration of the Jewish government, have no relation to christians.” (180-181)

7. The Old Covenant was not the Covenant of Grace

“It is presumed that no christian believes that eternal salvation was promised in the Sinai covenant; or, in other words, that it was the covenant of grace… The Sinai covenant, as has been shown be- fore, was symbolical or typical of the kingdom of Christ, through which, as through a glass darkly, true believers saw Christ’s day and rejoiced. The author, however, takes no notice of the divine antitype, who ful- filled every law that man had broken, and made atonement for trans- gressions, nor of the spiritual kingdom which he had instituted, and of which he had expressly declared that it was not of this world” (51)

“The learned [Thomas] Scott, on Exodus xxiv. 3, 4. says, ‘the covenant of grace is not made with whole nations, or collective bodies of divers characters, but only representatively with Christ, as the surety of the elect, and personally with true believers. But whilst this covenant was made with the nation of Israel, in respect to their outward blessings, it was a shadow of good things to come’… This covenant was distinct, both from the covenant of works, of which Adam was the surety, and under which, every unbeliever, in every age and nation, is bound; and from the covenant of grace, mediated by Christ, of which every believing Israelite received the blessing… See the same learned author on Heb. viii.” (19)

8. The Old Covenant was made only with Israel and tied to the land

“the peculiar national covenant” (3)

“the national, commonly called the Sinai covenant, or law of peculiarity, because it originated at Sinai, and was only applicable to Israel.” (18)

“Now the intention of the Sinai covenant does not appear to have extended beyond the Israelites themselves” (9)

“The penalties enacted by the national law could only be executed within the bounds prescribed—Numbers, chap. xxxiv. Within these bounds, idolatry was not only a sin, as in other places, but it was, if committed by an apostate Israelite, treason against Jehovah, as their peculiar king. The iniquity of the devoted nations being full, they were to be destroyed; but no authority was given to punish idolatry out of those limits, nor even to carry their own worship out of the typically holy land.” (10)

“That this covenant, or national constitution, was local, viz. confined to a particular country, is evident through the whole transaction. The devoted nations are expressly described in different places, and the geo- graphical boundaries defined with precision, Num. xxxiv. 1–15. and the administration of the national law expressly limited to the land within those boundaries. Deut. iv. 14. “And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might do them in the land whither you go over to possess it.”… Those statutes and judgments were not to be administered in other lands.” (20)

“If the scripture foundation of the legislative authority, and infallibility of the church of Rome is unsound, where will the authors and other advocates of human legislatures, in and over protestant churches, find a scripture foundation to rest upon? Not on the law of Moses, because the operation and administration was intended for, and applied only to a peculiar people and precisely described territory, and the immediate superintendance of God, as before stated; and with relation to that pe- culiar people and territory, it waxed old and vanished away, agreeably to divine appointment. This is abundantly testified, both by the prophets and apostles. If this covenant and its laws were of general application, as plead by the authors, I demand proof of it, from the authority of the prophets and apostles. This they have not given, and cannot give. They make a general application of it on their own authority only, contrary to the testimony of the prophets and apostles themselves, on whose testi- mony, under Christ himself, the christian church is built.” (118)

“The law of Pennsylvania defines and provides for the punishment of both blasphemy and prophaneness, not because it is forbidden in the peculiar law of Moses, but because it is contrary to the moral law, and a corruption of manners. The law may yet provide for punishing idolatry on the same principles, but surely the law of Moses did not authorise it but in the symbolically holy land, where priests and Levites set as judges; nor to execute it on any but the devoted nations and apostate Israelites, and in defined cases.” (125)

“The Jews were not authorised to punish any idolatry but such as was expressly defined, and committed by persons expressly described, and within a territory expressly limited by divine authority.” (165)

9. God was uniquely the immediate king of Israel

“Within these bounds, idolatry was not only a sin, as in other places, but it was, if committed by an apostate Israelite, treason against Jehovah, as their peculiar king.” (10)

“Under the peculiar constitution of Israel, as a nation, Jehovah was not only their God, in the same relation in which he stood to all the families of the earth, but he was also the immediate and peculiar king of Israel, as a nation. In that character, every offence committed against the peculiar laws of the national covenant, or constitution, was not only an offence, or crime against these laws, but a sin against Jehovah, their king. This na- tional law did not forbid all offences against the moral law, nor authorise the courts to punish all the infractions of those laws, which were forbid- den in the Jewish law; very many of them have no penalty annexed, to be executed by man. All transgressions of, or want of conformity to the moral law, even though not prohibited in the national law, were sins, for which sinners must account to God at the final judgment. In that solemn and general decision, there will be no respect of persons or nations—no difference between Jew and Gentile.” (100)

“Criminal laws must be applied and executed agreeable to the express letter and plain meaning of the law in Israel; and where the case was doubtful, recourse was had to God, as their peculiar king. This was done in several instances by Moses in the wilderness, by Joshua, in the case of Achan, &c. In other cases, with respect to which God, as king of Israel, did not think proper to entrust man to execute his judgments for disobeying his laws, he reserved the execution in his own hand, and applied it as he thought proper.” (117)

“One government, indeed, was immediately instituted by God, of which he became the immediate king or supreme magistrate. In this government, certain offences against the moral law were subjected to the decision of those who acted as civil judges under Jehovah, as the im- mediate sovereign of that theocracy, or immediate government of God. But other offences against the moral law were tolerated, so far as to be withheld from the cognizance or punishment of the civil courts.” (164)

“God in the wilderness constituted Israel a peculiar nation, and condescended to become their immediate king, and instituted offi- cers to administer the government, under himself, who was always present in his sanctuary, to give them answers “in all things that they called upon him for.”—Deut. iv. 7. The government was put in operation in the wilderness, and disobedience to its authority was severely punished im- mediately by God, their king, and provision made for its administration when they would be settled in the promised land; and also the case fore- seen, of their rejecting God as their immediate king, and choosing a king, like the nations around them. Provision was made for tolerating this departure from the national law; provided, however, that the person should be designated by God, and exercise no legislative authority, but obey, and administer the law of Moses, agreeable to the copy thereof deposited with the priests and Levites.” (200)

  • Compare An Essay on the Kingdom of Christ by Abraham Booth “Now an external king, is a political sovereign : but such is not our Lord Jesus Christ, nor yet the divine Father. Once, indeed, it was otherwise : for, concerning the Israelitish nation, it is written : ” I,” Jehovah, ” will be thy king. Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: Jehovah shall rule over you. Jehovah your God, was your king.”… Yes, Jehovah, as a temporal monarch, stood related to the ancient Israelites, and entered into a federal transaction with them at Sinai, not only as the Object of their worship, but as their King. Their judicial and civil institutes, their laws of war and of peace, various orders respecting the land they occupied, and the annual acknowledgments to the great Proprietor of it, were all from God, as their political sovereign.” and John Erskine’s “The Nature of the Sinai Covenant”

10. Old Covenant required outward obedience

“a fulfilling of the letter of the law satisfied the national covenant—it only required circumcision of the flesh; the moral law required circumcision of the heart.” (9-10)

Neither Pharisees nor Sadducees “could be excluded from communion, under that law” (10)

“The moral law not only reaches to overt acts, but to the thoughts and intents of the heart; the Sinai covenant only reached the outward man” (91)

“The moral law not only reaches to overt acts, but to the thoughts and intents of the heart; the Sinai covenant only reached the outward man; therefore the moral law of the authors is imperfect. It was never intended to be the moral law. To use the Saviour’s words, ‘It was not so from the beginning.'” (91)

“On the freedom from the law of Moses, that great reformer, and eminently evangelical divine, Martin Luther,… says… ‘There is also another abolishment of the law, which is outward, to wit, that the politic laws of Moses do nothing belong unto us.'” (181)

“Indeed, the moral and judicial law were enacted by the same Lawgiver, and coincided, as far as infinite wisdom saw it to be conducive to the grand ends in view: but as they were intended for such distinct purposes, they must in many things vary. The moral law commanded every thing spiritually good in its utmost perfection, and tolerated nothing wrong in the smallest degree: but the sentence of it is reserved ‘to that day, when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.’ The judicial law commanded nothing morally bad, and forbade nothing morally good; but as sentence according to it would be pronounced by the civil magistrate, it did not insist on the same perfection” (165-166)

11. Gen 9:6 refers to the practice of private individuals administering vengeance

“In this second infant state of the human race, too few in number to form a civil society, capable of enacting and executing penal laws, it pleased God himself, among other precepts, to prescribe death to be inflicted by man, as the penalty for murder; and as there were not, at that period, civil courts, or officers for public prosecution, he enjoined the brothers (explained to include others near of kin) of the deceased, to execute the sentence, under the penalty of God himself requiring his brother’s blood at his hands, as he had formerly done the blood of Abel at the hand of Cain. This precept, given to the family of Noah, then containing the whole human race, is still in substance equally applicable to all nations, and at all times. It is the only punishment adequate to the offence; but the appointment of the brother, or near of kin, to be the avenger of blood, arose from the then state of society, and pointed out the expediency of civil government, when men became sufficiently numerous for that purpose.” (11-12)

I disagree with the very last statement, but Findley recognized that Genesis 9:6 authorized private individuals to administer justice according to lex talionis.

12. Wheat and the Tares

“In every instance, in which hu- man uniformity has been enforced by the sword of the civil magistrate, many of the servants of Christ have suffered persecution. It is not in the wisdom of man to make a clean riddance of the tares from the wheat; and the Saviour has forbidden the attempt.” (67)

13. National Churches are unbiblical

“National churches, as such, being founded on human fallible authority, are not, in their national character, churches of Christ. I agree, however, with the learned Bishop Hoadly, (himself a dignitary of a national church) that they may be schools of instruction, and may, as well as several other denominations, contain Christ’s disciples within them.” (40)

“I agree with Dr. Owen, and other learned Puritan divines, that no such ecclesiastic authority (or branch, as the author is pleased to call it) as has been instituted by national churches, or even by churchmen in the third century, when they assumed a law making power over Christ’s house, and the falling away foretold by the apostle commenced, was instituted by Christ or his apostles. It was an addition to the laws of Christ, and God added to them all the plagues which the church underwent, through the long and dark night of the grand apostacy.” (43)

“I recommend the perusal of the histories of both church and state during the fourth and fifth centuries… The church of Christ had, before this period, fallen from her first love, and, like Israel of old, played the harlot; the shepherds of his flock had usurped a lordship over it; but in his standard period, the fourth century, they had transferred that lordship to the kingdoms of this world, or rather parted it between them, and to this day have never fully agreed what share of it each should possess. In proof of this, such ex- tracts from national and church history might be given, as would fill a volume; for the professed kingdom of Christ having become a kingdom of this world, the civil history of every nation, where christianity prevailed, is also a history of the church.” (52)

“the term toleration, in religious matters, among christians, originated from political religious establishments, introduced with other conceptions of chris- tianity, and too soon adopted, and too eagerly pursued after the refor- mation by protestant states, while they worshipped an idol of their own making, viz. uniformity, in obedience to rules of worship prescribed by human authority.” (113)

“Consequently, Europe produced at one period above twenty Popes, including the free and sovereign cantons and cities, as well as the sovereign kings, princes and dukes, who acted equal to the Pope of Rome in deciding definitively on religious truth… they gradually became convinced, that the establishment of the worship of their idol of uniformity, could not be supported; that it either made hypocrites, or excited their subjects to oppose it; and, in short, that they were not God’s vicegerents to judge of, or punish sin against himself. ” (114)

“I believe, with the apostles, the reformers, and the most celebrated modern divines, among whom I name the great Dr. Owen, that scripture is always sufficient to overturn error. That divine demonstrates, that those arms were always successful, until the church, and afterwards church and state, usurped a legislative authority in the church of Christ. That the spiritual armour would still have been so, if other armour had not been resorted to.” (117)

“There were, indeed, numerous martyrs in the seventeenth century. In France, Piedmont, and other popish countries belonging to Babylon the great, the mother of harlots—drunken with the blood of the saints; and there was also the blood of martyrs shed, and other grievous oppressions inflicted, both on the spiritual and temporal interests of christians, by the little Babylons, viz. the antichristian, political, protestant establishments in Britain and elsewhere, who, after the example of the author’s standard authority of emperors and councils, usurped Christ’s legislative author- ity over his body, the church; but he has not told us to which of these martyrs he appeals. I am still more at a loss to know what reformers he means. I know of no reformation which took place in the seventeenth century. There were, indeed, many great and pious divines who endeavoured to promote reformation, but without success. In Britain there was a successful struggle to overturn the prelatical hierarchy, and the superstitions ac- companying it; but the prevailing party in church and state substituted another tyranny in its place. Those, since called independents, consisting of such learned and godly divines as Goodwin, Burroughs, Nye, Simpson,9 &c. who had contributed largely to prepare the Confession of Faith and Catechisms, first opposed the political establishment, and then plead an exemption from the civil penalties of it, so far as to enjoy the right of ordination, &c. It was refused. They plead for toleration; it was refused. These men, who had been among the ornaments of the assembly, dissented from necessity.” (175-176)

“Here the historian admits, that the reformation was not perfect; that purity was only restored in a considerable degree; and that the church was delivered only from many, not from all the superstitions under which she lay disguised. This indeed was a fair and a blessed beginning of re- formation, but alas! its progress was stopped too soon; princes stepped into the throne of Christ, and made laws for his house; and they made it the temporal interest of the clergy to acquiesce with this usurped au- thority. Thus church and state combined to stop the progress of refor- mation, and said unto it, hitherto shalt thou come, and no further. Hence it came to pass, that, instead of a reformed church of Christ in Europe, we have a church of England, of Scotland, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, &c. each of them modelled by the authority, and agreeable to the policy or caprice of the respective civil governments. Hence arose a number of little Babylons, separated indeed by various shades of difference from the great Babylon, but, like her, in a greater or lesser degree, stained with the blood of the saints, and trading in the souls, i.e. the minds or con- sciences of men, and agreeing with her in the foundation on which she has erected her throne, viz. on a human legislative authority in Christ’s spiritual kingdom, paramount to the laws of Christ himself.” (180)

“I sincerely believe, that all the superstition and will-worship introduced in the primitive church, before it became united to, and governed by, the kingdoms of this world, were introduced with the purest intentions; and that the promoters of them believed that they were reformers. I have the same opinion of those, who, with ill-informed zeal, put a stop to advances in reformation at the threshold, by promoting anew the great footstep of antichrist to his throne, viz. the union of the church of Christ, which is not of this world, with the kingdoms and politics of this world, and thereby erecting a barrier against advances in reformation. From that time reformation, not only in theory, but in practice, has declined.” (228)

“It is well known, that, with exception of occasional revivings, the protestant churches have been losing ground, both in purity and power, ever since they were connected with, and governed by political influence. I will appeal to every true protestant acquainted with church history, for the truth of the following fact, viz. that no political church has ever reformed itself, further than contributed to its own temporal aggrandizement, including the civil government with it, to whose tyranny the clergy of such churches almost always became subservient.” (229)

“To the advocates of persecution I wish to address a few thoughts. All the arguments of Bellarmin20 and Bossuet, assisted by all their army of popish doctors; all the sophistry of Bolingbroke,21 Hume, Voltaire,22 Gibbon, and the whole phalanx of deists, even with the assistance of the Socinians, cannot injure the cause of christianity so much, as one instance of persecution by real protestants, in support of their divine religion. Pure christianity depends on other authority than the gallows, or the faggot, fines or forfeitures. Having recourse to these in its sup- port is, in fact, giving up the cause. It is an open acknowledgment, that it cannot be supported by scripture and reason. If so, it is not of God, and ought to be given up. The first reformers, except Zuinglius, were opposed to civil govern- ment making laws for the church. Calvin contended against it; so did the reformers of Scotland—but unhappily, that church called on the state to support its censures by civil penalties; this soon after turned against their successors with severity. The doing so was inconsistent with the doctrine on which the reformation was built, which was the scrip- tures, addressed to the consciences of individuals. The division of presbyterians into numerous sects, especially in Brit- ain, and from thence carried into this country, all of them holding the same faith, and, at the same time, as far as in them lies, unchurching each other, originated, as I have said, with political tests, enforced by civil authority; every new test became a new snare, and source of endless division and animosity. I speak here of those sects who profess to adhere to the Westminster Confession of Faith, and Presbyterian Church Government.” (237-238)

14. Liberty of Conscience

“The constitution, in this instance only, reserved what they had no moral power to take away. The master has not the power of taking the right from his slave of worshipping God agreeable to his own knowledge of his perfections and his will. Worship offered in obedience to the mas- ter’s knowledge and judgment of the will of God, that is, the master’s conscience, would indeed be a mockery; it would be insulting to the all-seeing God, who knows our thoughts before we utter them. If the slave has this right, it must be unalienable. The representatives of Penn- sylvania in convention, could have no greater claims on the obedience of their constituents, than masters have over their slaves. They could not oblige them to worship agreeable to their own reason and judgment, on an implicit faith. All acceptable worship is a reasonable service rendered in faith, agreeable to the discoveries of the will of God, as revealed to the worshippers. If he is ignorant, or ill-informed of it, his sin, if information is attainable, is but worship rendered agreeable to the judgment of another man, contrary to his own, is a presumptuous sin, nearly approaching to that which has no forgiveness.” (78)

“I believe the hearts of all men are depraved, viz. have a corrupted nature, but that many in- crease their own depravity by habits of wickedness; but I ask the author whether he thinks that compelling them by civil penalties to profess or practice what they believe not to be true, or to be sinful, will remove that depravity, or increase it? He thinks it will remove it, or else he would not recommend the practice. I think directly the contrary, and have scrip- ture and the experience of all ages on my side. Dealing deceitfully or in guile with the heart-searching God, and obeying man in preference to him, is, in scripture, branded as a sin of the deepest dye.” (82)

“Our governments are necessarily imperfect, being the work of imperfect men; but I sincerely bless God for it, that they have not usurped God’s sovereignty over the conscience, and are not stained with having or exercising the dreadful power of persecuting for obeying God, rather than man. In this, the United States have set a laudable example to other nations, and the ministers of Christ are not entangled in the affairs of state. If, in the constitution, instead of reserving to every man the right of wor- shipping almighty God agreeably to the dictates of his own conscience, it had been expressed, that no man should be compelled to worship God agreeably to the dictates of the consciences of any other man or body of men, it would have an- swered precisely the same purpose, and probably have been less liable to the cavils of those that are skilful to find fault.” (85)

“the question at issue is, whether we shall worship God with our own, or with another man’s conscience. The apostle served God with his own conscience, so do all acceptable worshippers; this I advocate.” (86)

“[Wylie’s] observations of the importance of real religion to the happiness of a nation, are very just, agreeing with Proverbs xiii. 34. “Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is the reproach of any people.” For this reason I am opposed to laws calculated to promote hypocricy, viz. prevarication with God and man. Against such the Saviour pronounces the most tremendous woes… Civil government, using its power and influence to increase that guilt, is contributing to increase national guilt, and call down desolating judgments.”

“The author, p. 24. quotes from the Larger Catechism the duties required in the second commandment, which are there described to be “the detesting, disapproving, opposing all false worship, and, according to every one’s place and calling, removing all monuments of idolatry.” Though I do not substitute the Westminster, nor any other human fallible authority, or creed of any church, for scripture, yet with the above I most heartily agree. I hereby declare that I detest, disapprove, and oppose all false worship, and, according to my place and calling, endeavour to remove all monuments of idolatry. As a proof of the truth of this, I offer my present endeavours to remove the idolatry of the ratifying and sanctioning power of the laws of the most high God, by the civil magistrate, as he does civil laws, and, consequently, of setting human authority above the divine, and other errors which this idolatry brings in its baleful train.”

15. Nurse Father = physical protection

“Civil governments, appointed by the people in pursuit of their own happiness, are under a moral obligation to protect all men who lead quiet and peaceable lives, and punish such as do not; they are, in so doing, nursing fathers to the church, which few of them have ever been.” (77)

“The author himself quotes the authority of the prophet Isaiah, xlix. 23. “Kings shall be thy nursing fathers,” &c… The worship of God is completely protected by the government of the United States. The magistrates, indeed, have not turned preachers, to feed believers with the sincere milk of the word. It is believed this was not intended by the prophet, nor meant by the author. The prophecy is, therefore, in part fulfilled by the government of the United States, as a prelude to its more full accomplishment in the millennium, which I believe is certainly approaching; but not such as many expect, not a worldly kingdom.” (122)

Conclusion

In the clearest articulation I have found of the theology behind the American changes to the Westminster Confession and its political philosophy we see also a clear rejection of Westminster’s Covenant Theology. An established, national, parochial visible church is foundational to Presbyterianism, rooted in Israel’s ecclessiology. A rejection of a national church and all it entails requires a rejection of Presbyterianism’s covenant theology as well.

Two Kingdoms Debate (Tuininga v Boot) Analysis

June 26, 2016 3 comments

Matthew Tuininga and Joe Boot recently had a debate on Two Kingdoms and Cultural Obedience, sponsored by the Ezra Institute. Give it a listen before reading the analysis below.

I think Tuininga had many good things to say, particularly with regards to how we approach the issue structurally. Understanding the two kingdoms in eschatological terms as this age (common kingdom) and the age to come (kingdom of Christ) is very helpful. He did a good job of showing how that should influence our attitudes and involvement with those around us (Christ-like humility with an expectation of suffering). However, the Achilles heel of both Tuininga and VanDrunen is their understanding of the relationship between general revelation and special revelation. Boot recognizes this problem and did a decent job of pointing it out.

Structure

The difference between the two perspectives is largely a difference in understanding covenant theology. One side correctly understands that Adam was placed in a covenant of works wherein his perfect obedience to the law would have earned him the reward of an immutable (thus eternal) life (WCF 4.2, 7.1, 7.2, 19.1; 2LBC 4.2, 6.1, 7.1 – see here). This covenant included obedience to his task of exercising dominion in the garden and out into the whole world. Thus we could say that Adam was laboring in this age for the reward of the age to come (eternal sabbath rest). Adam fell and broke the covenant of works. But God did not immediately commence the final judgment. He delayed it for the sake of the glorification of Christ in the redemption of his bride. So Adam, and all those in Adam, were cursed and lost any hope of earning the reward of the age to come, but they continued to exist in this age. Thus this age was modified by the fall to remove any possibility of reward for labor in this age. At this point, labor was merely to survive. The Noahic Covenant was a formal arrangement to stabilize this modified present age. Its purpose was the common preservation of the world (this age) until the last elect is redeemed and Christ returns (the age to come). The age to come exists in the form of the already/not-yet. As the gospel is proclaimed and hearts are regenerated, the age to come breaks into this age already. The kingdom the saints inherit is not this age/world, but rather the new heavens the new earth (age to come) that Adam was laboring to enter before the fall. Thus we are pilgrims here, suffering in this age, while we await our full redemption in the age to come. This is the correct structure that Tuininga and Van Drunen are working from (expressed in my own words).

Boot, however, rejects this structure. He denies that Adam was working to earn anything. Adam had everything. All he could do was forfeit the life he had. Thus there is no two-age distinction. There is no eternal reward. All Adam was doing was living a life of faithful obedience to the gospel (yes, he said that). Adam, before the fall, was in a covenant of grace with God and this same covenant continued after the fall, with the same mandate to develop creation in faithful obedience to God (for more on monocovenantalism, see here). This same covenant was renewed with Noah. The earth was given to Noah because the whole of creation is for God’s people. Boot holds the standard paedobaptist view that says the Noahic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. It was a covenant made with the church (Noah and his offspring), not with all of mankind. Thus the fallen world belongs to the church and it is the church’s duty to exercise dominion over it. Non-believers, as non-believers, have no dominion mandate and no claim to this world (there is no mankind “in general”). Christ redeems us and places us back in the garden to continue Adam’s work. We are to continue this mandate until Christ returns, at which point he’ll finish things off by finally removing non-believers from the world we’ve been working to perfect. Non-believers are “accidental” to the world. We should, in essence, proceed as if they are not here. Our dominion over the earth, including our use of the sword, should not accommodate their existence. Not only is the Noahic Covenant the Covenant of Grace, but so is the Mosaic Covenant. That is where Boot gets the idea that we will be cursed in this life for disobedience to our covenant obligations. It’s why he so strongly disagrees with Tuininga’s emphasis on suffering. Suffering is a covenant curse, per Deuteronomy 28. And the idea that we are pilgrims is completely upside down because the whole world belongs to us now and exile/pilgrimage is a Mosaic covenant curse.

So the difference between the two is clearly a difference in covenant structure. Tuininga and Van Drunen depart from standard paedobaptist covenant theology by recognizing that the Noahic and Mosaic Covenants are not the Covenant of Grace. This gives them the freedom to correctly discern how Christians are to live in this present age.

Boot’s discussion on the Noahic Covenant 1:09:00:

A[According to VanDrunen] we have no warrant to apply special revelation in particular to transform the culture by the gospel. David Van Drunen writes ‘We would do well, I believe to discard familiar mantras about transformation and especially redemption. Nowhere does Scripture call us to such a grandiose task. They are human dreams rather than God-give obligations.’ p. 171. Well, since the common kingdom already shares the believers’ norms in common, it’s obviously pointless to redeem something that isn’t sick or doesn’t require any healing or renewal. Why redeem something that’s already perfectly fitted to the task of being a neutral area between believer and non-believer? It has to be neutral, despite the objections I’ve heard to that, or autonomous, or it couldn’t be common, if the issue of the heart is central.

As a result, the project that we’re actually set with two kingdoms theology is massive. It means the programatic challenge of how to divide reality and the covenant with Noah is given the burden of justifying this theme theologically. Now, the first time covenant is mentioned in Scripture is Genesis 6:18. After the flood it’s mentioned again in Genesis 9:11. And they’re connected. In Gen 6:8 though, we read ‘Noah found favor,’ and word there is “hen”/grace, in the eyes of the Lord.’ We’re told, actually, that he was righteous and blameless and he walked with God in Genesis 6:9. These terms all presuppose a covenant relationship already. God said this is my covenant. So the covenant is introduced as something that’s already there, it’s already a fixed structure. If this is only with Noah a covenant of common grace (and that is a term the bible doesn’t use) then the first mention of the covenant of grace [note: a term the bible doesn’t use] would be with Abraham, and I don’t think any reformed people would think there was no grace before the time of Abraham. This can’t be the case, obviously. because God renews a covenant with righteous Noah that’s already been in existence. So Genesis 6 reveals not just a covenant with nature, I would argue, but a covenant with a place in the salvation history of the world.

This is a standard argument frequently used by many paedobaptists: Because a covenant head is justified/saved/redeemed, therefore the covenant made with them is the covenant of grace. Noah was saved by grace, therefore the Noahic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. Abraham was justified by grace, therefore the Abrahamic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. But this is fallacious reasoning. If they are heads of the covenant made with them, then the covenant made with them was not the Covenant of Grace, which Christ is the head of. Note Thomas Boston:

Covenants typical of the covenant of grace were made with persons representing their seed. The covenant of royalty, a type of this covenant, was made with David, as representative of his seed; therefore the covenant of grace typified by it was made with Christ, as the representative of his seed. Hence in our first text the party covenanted with and sworn to is called David, which is one of the names of Christ typified by David, Hos. iii. ult. for which cause the mercies of the covenant are called ‘ the sure mercies of David,’ Isa. Iv. 3. And this David is God’s servant having a seed comprehended with him in the covenant, Psal. Ixxxix. 4. To the same purpose it may be observed, that Phinehas’ covenant of priesthood was a type of the covenant of grace ; and in it Phinehas stood as representative of his seed, typifying Jesus Christ representing his spiritual seed in the covenant of grace. Numb. xxv. 12, 13. This is evident from Psal. ex. 4. where the everlasting priesthood promised to Phinehas has had its full accomplishment in Jesus Christ. Hereto may be added, that the covenant made with Noah and his sons was made with them as the heads of the new world, and representatives of their seed. Gen. ix. 9, 11. And that this covenant was a type of the covenant of grace, and Noah therein a type of Christ, is clear from its being established on a sacrifice. Gen viii. 20, 21. from the nature of that covenant, viz. that there should not be another deluge, chap. ix. 11. ; typical of the wrath of God against the elect, Isa. liv. 9, 10. confirmed by the rainbow about the throne, Rev. iv. 3. Wherefore, since in the covenant of royalty, by which the covenant of grace is typified in our text, and in other covenants typical thereof, the parties with whom they were made stood as heads, public persons and representatives of their seed, it is evident, that the covenant of grace typified by these was made with Christ as the head and representative of his spiritnal seed : for whatever is attributed to any person or thing as a type, hath its accomplishment really and chiefly in the person or thing typified.
-Of the Covenant of Grace (p. 328)

Thus the simple fact that the Noahic Covenant had “a place in the salvation history of the world” does not therefore mean it was not a covenant of common preservation for all men. It does not mean it was the Covenant of Grace. The fact that there was grace/favor towards Noah, again, does not therefore mean the Noahic Covenant is/was the Covenant of Grace. (Van Drunen argues that grammatically, Gen 6:18 does not necessarily refer to a renewal of any previous covenant. See Divine Covenants and Moral Order, p. 108).

Think about what happens in those chapters in Genesis. There’s an offering of clean cattle and foul by Noah. What are offerings for? The Lord accepts this sacrifice. Then there’s a blessing on Noah’s sons which repeats the blessing paradise. Then there’s stipulations concerning food, which, by the way includes eating meat with blood in it – what do we do with that? Manslaughter and murder, etc. Then there’s a proclamation of sanctions against transgressions of those stipulations. Then the blessing is repeated again. Then God promises he won’t flood the earth again. And then the rainbow is given as a covenant sign. What has Canada done with the covenant sign of the rainbow today? So we have blessing and cursing. We have offerings and sacrifices as seals of the covenant. God speaks to Noah as his vassal, his servant, and God both initiates and is the guarantor of this covenant. Now, I would not deny that the fruits of this covenant are enjoyed by the non-believer. Jesus says, doesn’t he, that the sun rises on the just and the unjust, the righteous and the unrighteous. But that doesn’t mean, that doesn’t remove the fact that it’s a covenant of grace. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. It cannot be a so-called ‘common grace covenant’ even though creation is involved. Grace is never common, that is general, it’s always covenantal, it’s always particular.

That’s simply begging the question. If the Noahic covenant is made with fallen mankind in general (Gen 9:9-10), then there is no dichotomy between covenantal and general.

Let me just quote Dr. Vandervaul “It is not so that redemption rests on creation. Nature does not form the first floor and grace the second. In God’s gracious dealings with his people, all creation is involved. The world sacrifice Noah made foreshadowed the work of Jesus Christ. His unique and perfect sacrifice brings the restoration of all things, also the salvation of the eagerly longing creation. We may not think of categories like general and special, as if the covenant with Noah were a general covenant and that with Abraham a special one. It is all or nothing. The whole of creation is for God’s people and hence its use was given to Noah and his seed, but not to them as a general people, but as participants in the covenant. Those who disassociate themselves from the covenant wave the right to recreation.”

Again, it’s a false dichotomy to say it’s either general or covenantal. He also does not explain how someone can disassociate themselves from the Noahic Covenant. God says he makes the covenant with Noah and every descendant of Noah (that means all of us) and with every living creature not to flood the earth again. How do the creatures disassociate themselves from the covenant? How does man? How can a man exempt himself from God’s promise not to kill him in a worldwide flood? And where is this “right to recreation” found in the Noahic covenant? Where is the loss of this right mentioned? This is very muddy thinking because it is all question begging.

So Noah leaves his country, like Abraham, he boards the ark. goes through an Exodus. The ark is obviously typological of salvation. Peter tells us, actually, its a type of baptism, which is the sign of the covenant. This is not some general abstract covenant.

This is another common error: mixing type and antitype together in a blender. Being a type does not make something the thing it typifies. Instead, it logically entails it is not the thing typified! No one denies that there is typology involved in Noah’s “salvation” in the ark. Does that therefore mean the covenant is not made with all men for their common preservation and it is instead the covenant of grace with Christ as the head? No.

And on leaving the ark, he’s recommissioned with the cultural mandate. It’s reminiscent of Genesis 1:28. So the root of the theological error of two kingdoms theology, I think, is the idea that creation and man can be generalized as abstractions so God allegedly creates man in general. But I don’t think this is the case. Genesis 1-3 is part of the gospel and right in Genesis 1-3 you have the first seed promise of the gospel in Genesis 3:15. It is why Christ is the second Adam. It’s why he’s the truly obedient son. You have this historical continuity of creation and redemption. Creation is the historical prologue of the gospel. Adam isn’t a man in general in a common kingdom. Noah is not a man in general in a common kingdom. They are God’s vice-regents. They are vassals. Adam, Abel, Enoch – they are God’s covenant men. Covenant is the foundation of history before and after the flood. The Lord was in relationship with man in his task and calling, and I want to suggest to you this evening that there was no time ever in man’s history where he was left with simply natural law or his reason or general principles by which to interpret his life and task. God spoke to him. God revealed himself to him. God spoke with particular men from the beginning. They have the possibility of obeying God as his covenant partner, as his image bearer, as his dominion servant, or not.

Of course we know that Adam in the garden was a symbol of God’s power and judgment with the tree. It’s not that Adam was there to earn his salvation. He was actually made upright. There was nothing lacking in him. But he might forfeit it by disobedience. So we can, I suppose, talk of a Paradise Covenant between Adam and his Creator. God is the Lord. Adam is his creature. Any covenant between a greater and a lesser is already a covenant of grace. I put it to you there is no such thing ever as a covenant of works in Scripture whereby man is justifying himself – anywhere! He lived by God’s grace and favor. The good news of the evangelion is that God is Lord and King. That’s what it means. Now, Adam even believed that. He had to believe that and he walked in the favor of that. So God calls all men from Adam, through Noah, to the present to serve and obey him. He’s the same God. The covenant mandate was to develop and keep God’s creation in obedience to him and I don’t see any evidence in Scripture that that’s changed. Jesus is the second Adam and who’s he mistaken for in the garden at the resurrection? The gardener. He is the gardener. He’s the new gardener. He’s the true gardener. And he calls us as prophets, priests, and kings – we’re not monks in a cloister in a dualistic, bifurcated universe of nature/grace dualism as in Romanism. We’re a royal priesthood. We’re not monastic pilgrims. The emphasis always on pilgrimage and suffering I hear in the 2K theology overlooks that we’re also soldiers, we’re ambassadors, we prophets, we’re priests, we’re a royal priesthood, we’re a holy nation.

This is Boot’s greatest error. He denies the covenant of works. He thus denies the law/gospel distinction. His whole perspective is therefore skewed. We are in the same situation as Adam. There is “no evidence in Scripture” that our work is any different than Adam’s. Of course he’s going to reject two kingdom theology if he starts from that unbiblical foundation. Of course he will deny that our labor here on earth, along with the non-believer’s labor here on earth, is only a means of preservation because he says we’re in the same situation as Adam. Of course he will deny that we are pilgrims if we are in the same situation as Adam – sent to rule over this world. But he is mistaken. We are absolutely not in the same situation as Adam. Christians are not in the same covenant. The mandate has changed post-fall. That’s why God established the Noahic covenant, a modified version of the Adamic Covenant, modified in light of the fall.

Tuininga rightly pushed back against Boot’s faulty Adamic & Mosaic outlook on life – tying obedience to temporal blessing and curse.

I would push back a little bit on what sounds like a golden age mentality. Were the days of Christendom really that the church was so obedient? It seems like it’s just rampant with errors and horrors. I think often faithfulness to the gospel is more likely to come to expression in suffering. And I think that’s exactly what the book of Revelation is telling us. You want to conquer? You suffer. That’s the message of the book of Revelation, and that’s the book we’ve been given for the future of the church…

Even the way you’re talking, it’s like suffering somehow means God’s purposes aren’t advancing enough. Somehow that means his kingdom isn’t progressing. Whereas I would, no, what he has taught us is that being Christlike, conforming to the image of Christ, means going out and loving our neighbors with a servant heart, seeking to see them conformed to the kingdom and its righteousness and fully expecting – as it meant for Jesus  – and for us that will mean suffering. And if we’re not ready for that, it will lead to anger and bitterness and I think you see that with many Christians. Are Christians most upset because we feel like we’re losing the West? Cause we’re losing power? Is that what’s motivating us? Or is it to see Christ witnessed in every area of life so that it’s truly the gospel coming to bear, it’s truly the gospel driving our cultural engagement.

For more on the issue of suffering, see Abraham Booth’s excellent An Essay on the Kingdom of Christ where he masterfully contrasts the Mosaic Kingdom with the Kingdom of Christ.

Now, as the immunities, grants, and honors, bestowed by the King Messiah, are ail of a spiritual nature; his faithful subjects have no reason to wonder, or to be discouraged, at any persecutions, afflictions, or poverty which may befall them. Were his empire of this world, then indeed it might be expected, from the goodness of his heart and the power of his arm, that those who are submissive to his authority, zealous for his honor, and conformed to his image, would commonly find themselves easy and prosperous in their temporal circumstances. Yes, were his dominion of a secular kind, it might be supposed that an habitually conscientious regard to his laws, would secure from the oppression of ungodly men, and from the distresses of temporal want. — Thus it was with Israel under their Theocracy. When the rulers and the people in general were punctual in observing Jehovah’s appointments, the stipulations of the Sinai Covenant secured them from being oppressed bv their enemies, and from any remarkable affliction by the immediate hand of God. Performing the conditions of their National Confederation, they were, as a people, warranted to expect every species of temporal prosperity. Health, and long life, riches, honors, and victory over their enemies, were promised by Jehovah to their external obedience.[ 64] The punishments also, that were denounced against flagrant breaches of the Covenant made at Horeb, were of a temporal kind.[ 65]

In this respect, however, as well as in other things, there is a vast difference between the Jewish, and the Christian economy…
It must indeed be acknowledged, that as vicious tempers and immoral practices have a natural tendency to impair health, distress the mind, and waste the property; to the exercise of holy affections, and the practice of true godliness, have the most friendly aspect on a Christian’s own temporal happiness, (except so far as persecution intervenes) and on the welfare of society. But then it is evident that this arises from the nature of things, and from the superintendency of common Providence; rather than from the dominion of Christ, as a spiritual monarch. For, so considered, spiritual blessings are all that they have to expect from his royal hand.

By the prophetic declarations of our Lord himself, and by the history of this kingdom, it plainly appears, that among all the subjects of his government, none have been more exposed to persecution, affliction, and poverty, than those who were most eminent for obedience to his laws, and most useful in his empire. The most uniform subjection to his authority, and the warmest zeal for his honor, that ever appeared upon earth; were no security from bitter persecution, from pinching poverty, or from complicated affliction. Our divine Lord, considered as a spiritual sovereign, is concerned for the spiritual interests of those that are under his government. His personal perfections and royal prerogatives, his power and wisdom, his love and care, are therefore to be regarded as engaged, both by office and by promise, — not to make his dependents easy and prosperous in their temporal concerns; but– to strengthen them for their spiritual warfare; to preserve them from finally falling by their invisible enemies; to make all afflictions work together for their good; to render them, in the final issue, more than conquerors over every opposer; and to crown them with, everlasting life.

General & Special Revelation

Though Tuininga got the structural issues correct, he continues to repeat the faulty view of general revelation that has become associated with two kingdom theology.

What also comes from this in Calvin is that we need to take very seriously the role of general revelation in our political engagement. And of course general revelation includes the concept of natural law. But it simply means that it’s not just enough to find a proof text for everything that we do. We need to also use reason. We need to use science. We need to use experience to figure out the best way to apply God’s moral principles in the actual contexts and amid the complexities in which we live.

Question: Is using “reason” general revelation? Is using “science” general revelation? Is using our “experience” general revelation? No, they are not. Tuininga, Hart, Van Drunen, and others make the mistake of equating general revelation with everything in life outside of Scripture. They think auto mechanics is a part of general revelation. It is not. See John Byl’s General Revelation and Evangelicalism.

Yes, we need to use reason. But is using reason somehow distinct from special revelation? Does not the Westminster Confession teach that God’s Word includes not only the explicit text of Scripture, but every logical consequence deduced (by reason) from Scripture? Thus the proper use of Scripture is never “proof-texting” but applying reason to Scripture to draw out the logical consequences implicit in Scripture (which involves comparing Scripture with Scripture). That’s not turning to general revelation.

Tuininga is likely referring to using “reason” as starting from our own thoughts and observations (rather than Scripture) and making logical deductions from those. But that is not general revelation. That’s just us making logical deductions from our own sinful, faulty starting points.

Second, respect God’s general revelation in your non-believing neighbors. I’ve already talked about how political and social judgments inevitably require dependence on general revelation – whether in the form of reason, or scientific knowledge, or experience, what-not. Anyone who’s involved with anything in the world knows this.

Again, he is confusing “anything in the world” with general revelation. There are many uses of our rational minds that do not constitute revelation. We apply our minds to the world for numerous practical purposes. It’s part of exercising dominion over the earth and it does not entail revelation.

What Calvin points out is that in any particular matter of general revelation, non-believers often have better knowledge than believers. Not always, but often they do. And, in fact, we all err. We all make mistakes. And sin corrupts us, our weakness corrupts us, such that we can’t interpret general revelation perfectly. So we need to be humble. And what I would suggest is that if our main goal is Christ-like witness, not our own version of triumph or political lordship, then our main goal should be to actually be Christ-like in the way we’re witnessing and interacting with our neighbors. That means when we’re acting with our neighbors on things, matters of general revelation, where people might disagree, where others might have more knowledge than us, we need to love them, show Christ’s love for them, by engaging them in ways that reflect humility, reasonableness, and respect. Not lording it over them like the Gentiles do, but serving. Those are all virtues of Christ to which we are called even in the realm of politics. We cannot expect non-believers to have embraced the gospel as the premise for supporting our practical and political implications.

I strongly affirm Tuininga’s emphasis here on humility. He is also correct that we can’t expect non-believers to share our views. But does that mean we should therefore abandon Scripture and limit ourselves to whatever the non-believer can agree to? No, not at all. I fully understand the practical difficulties involved in trying to arrive at a practical conclusion with non-believers on matters of ethics, but that difficulty doesn’t change the truth. Tuininga said that “we all err. We all make mistakes. And sin corrupts us, our weakness corrupts us, such that we can’t interpret general revelation perfectly.” If that is the case, then what is our guide? How can we know when someone is interpreting general revelation correctly and when they are not. If we can’t trust ourselves because of sin, should we trust the non-believer? How will we know when their sin is compromising and suppressing their knowledge of general revelation (as Romans 1 says they do)?

Speaking of fallen man’s knowledge of general revelation, Calvin warns

in the perverted and degenerate nature of man there are still some sparks which show that he is a rational animal, and differs from the brutes, inasmuch as he is endued with intelligence, and yet, that this light is so smothered by clouds of darkness that it cannot shine forth to any good effect… it is true that this love of truth fails before it reaches the goal, forthwith falling away into vanity. As the human mind is unable, from dullness, to pursue the right path of investigation, and, after various wanderings, stumbling every now and then like one groping in darkness, at length gets completely bewildered, so its whole procedure proves how unfit it is to search the truth and find it. (2.2.12)

Since man is by nature a social animal, he is disposed, from natural instinct, to cherish and preserve society; and accordingly we see that the minds of all men have impressions of civil order and honesty. Hence it is that every individual understands how human societies must be regulated by laws, and also is able to comprehend the principles of those laws. Hence the universal agreement in regard to such subjects, both among nations and individuals, the seeds of them being implanted in the breasts of all without a teacher or lawgiver. The truth of this fact is not affected by the wars and dissensions which immediately arise, while some, such as thieves and robbers, would invert the rules of justice, loosen the bonds of law, and give free scope to their lust; and while others (a vice of most frequent occurrence) deem that to be unjust which is elsewhere regarded as just, and, on the contrary, hold that to be praiseworthy which is elsewhere forbidden. For such persons do not hate the laws from not knowing that they are good and sacred, but, inflamed with headlong passion, quarrel with what is clearly reasonable, and licentiously hate what their mind and understanding approve. Quarrels of this latter kind do not destroy the primary idea of justice. For while men dispute with each other as to particular enactments, their ideas of equity agree in substance. This, no doubt, proves the weakness of the human mind, which, even when it seems on the right path, halts and hesitates. Still, however, it is true, that some principle of civil order is impressed on all. (2.2.13)

the intellect is very seldom mistaken in the general definition or essence of the matter; but that deception begins as it advances farther, namely, when it descends to particulars. That homicide, putting the case in the abstract, is an evil, no man will deny; and yet one who is conspiring the death of his enemy deliberates on it as if the thing was good. The adulterer will condemn adultery in the abstract, and yet flatter himself while privately committing it. The ignorance lies here: that man, when he comes to the particular, forgets the rule which he had laid down in the general case… Moreover, when you hear of a universal judgment in man distinguishing between good and evil, you must not suppose that this judgment is, in every respect, sound and entire. For if the hearts of men are imbued with a sense of justice and injustice, in order that they may have no pretext to allege ignorance, it is by no means necessary for this purpose that they should discern the truth in particular cases. (2.2.23-24)

Calvin is clear (and correct) that natural, fallen man cannot be relied upon to accurately understand general revelation, even in matters of civil justice. They can agree in general that justice is good, but when they get to particulars, they err because of their sinful tendencies. And civil law is quite interested in particulars.

Take libertarians for example. They’re quite good at recognizing that murder is wrong (for all men) and that murderers should be punished. But ask them about abortion and you’ll get some pretty bizarre answers. Walter Block’s “eviction” theory of treating an infant in the womb as an intruder is a wonderful example of Calvin’s observation that “when he comes to the particular, [he] forgets the rule which he had laid down in the general case.” Block argues that a woman may “evict” an unborn child from her body as an exercise in property rights and that she is not responsible for whether the child survives outside of her body or not. Should we humbly submit to Block’s better knowledge of general revelation on this point, recognizing that we may be in error? No, we go to Scripture and see that he is wrong. We may seek to gain insights from these men, but we always, always judge whether they are right or wrong by comparing what they say with Scripture!

For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any books however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly. (Calvin, 1.6.1)

Tuininga agrees when he says that

The church needs to proclaim very clearly the dignity of all human life in the image of God, right, and prohibition against murder. And not just the obligation that we don’t take human life but that we care for human life – the positive side of the command ‘Do not murder’ as articulated in the Heidelberg catechism. So the church needs proclaim that and it needs to proclaim that without compromise as being a clear implication of gospel, for all people including the state. It’s the state’s job to punish injustice and it’s the state’s job insofar as it is able, to prevent these things. And then I think the organic church then goes out and we are obligated as citizens to seek advance in the way of justice insofar as we are able, just as we are with any moral issue. Now, does that mean that we should go into the public realm and say this is the only perfect position I would hold and I would not support legislation moving in that direction in one way or another. You’re an MP and if there was a law that came to the Parliament now that said ‘Should abortion be prohibited in every case except in the instance of rape of the mother?’ Well you might say ‘I don’t even think it should be legitimate in the case of rape, but that is clearly a compromise moving in the right direction so I might support that, because I recognize that due to the hardness of the human heart sometimes we might not be able to persuade people to prohibit it in all those circumstances.’ The church should never preach that abortion should be illegal except in rape of the mother because the church should say abortion’s always horrible. But what the means in politics, in secular engagement, is going to be a little more complicated based on what is possible, what is attainable and what possibilities individuals have.

Tuininga recognizes that Scripture is to be the final authority in all matters of ethics and that it rightfully speaks to political issues. His confusion is that he wrongly equates the application of principles, which requires discernment and wisdom, with general revelation in distinction from special revelation. Deciding whether to support a law like the one he describes is not somehow to look to general revelation instead of or apart from Scripture. It’s simply a question of how to best apply Scripture!

Boot offers some helpful criticism on this point.

One of the problems, though, with the articulation of natural law as they’re often presented is it’s very difficult to find people that actually agree on the content of natural law. What is it? Of course there was a Stoic Greek articulation of natural law. There’s a sort of Roman Catholic version that’s Christianized. There’s the sort of Protestant version, which, I think, with the reformers with the law of nations was essentially biblical law. I don’t see that Scripture and General Revelation say different things. And so, I think what troubles me a little bit… is how we understand the role of God’s revealed Word, his revealed law, as we engage the culture. I think we want to boil it down to common grace natural law principles, and my question is this: what does natural law mean in a post-Darwinian world? (@2:00:00)

Boot is correct that Scripture and General Revelation do not say different things. Scott Swain, in summarizing the historic reformed view of natural theology, notes “Revealed theology teaches with greater clarity the truths of natural theology.” Boot is also correct that the reformers did identify natural law with biblical law. It is the 10 commandments written on the heart of man at creation. Westminster Confession 19.1 says “The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man. (Romans 2:14, 15; Deuteronomy 10:4).” Richard Muller, in his Dictionary of Latin and Greek Terms notes “The scholastics argue the identity of the lex naturalis with the lex Mosaica…according to substance, and distinguish them…according to form. The lex naturalis is inward, written on the heart and therefore obscure [due to sin], whereas the lex Mosacia is revealed externally and written on tablets and thus of greater clarity.” In an essay on how Calvin’s view of natural law differed from Aquinas’, R. Scott Clark notes “unlike Aquinas, he defined natural law very precisely by identifying it with the decalogue or moral law… Far from being a conduit of the Classical or Thomist view of the lex naturalis Calvin made a very sophisticated revision of the concept of natural law by removing it from the Stoic and Thomistic corpus of ‘self-evident’ truths and identifying it with the content of the Law revealed in the Graden and at Sinai and in the Sermon on the Mount.”

It is in this vein that Boot rightly warns of Aquinas’ influence on Van Drunen. “He actually graduated from Layola in Chicago. I think he became very taken with Aquinas and the catholic nature/grace doctrine and natural law theory and I think he’s been trying to marry that with a more covenantal view of Christianity.”  Van Drunen actually admits this is true in Divine Covenants and Moral Order.

Thomas understood the natural law more in terms of a moral order than a series of discrete rules. Natural law, for Thomas, is encapsulated in one rule – pursue good and shun evil – but this is so general that it is of little concrete usefulness. More specific rules (such as those of the Decalogue) can also be understood through practical reason, but even these do not capture the natural law comprehensively, for natural law pertains to all things to which human beings are inclined by nature. Though again I develop these matters differently, the idea of natural law in terms of moral order rather than discrete rules is also important to the theology of natural law for which I argue in subsequent chapters. (25)

Van Drunen rejects the reformation’s identification of natural law with the decalogue and instead returns to Aquinas. Where he modifies Aquinas is that he applies the concept to the covenantal structure discussed above. Natural law theory, generally speaking, is the practice of observing human nature in order to determine what principles of justice are common among all men down through history. Whatever is found to be in common, that is natural law. Van Drunen follows the same approach. However, instead of observing all of recorded human history, he chooses to observe Scripture’s account of human history and attempts to derive the content of natural law from these observations. When he does this, Van Drunen reaches the conclusion that the content of natural law actually changes under the Noahic Covenant. What God reveals to all men changed after the fall.

My basic argument in this book is that God promulgates the natural law in covenant relationships with human beings, who are rulers of the created world under him. He did so originally in a covenant of creation, with Adam as divine image-bearer and representative of the human race, in which natural law made known both humanity’s basic moral obligations and humanity’s eschatological destiny of new creation upon performance of the obligations. After the fall into sin, God continues to promulgate natural law, though in refracted form through the covenant with Noah, by which he preserves the first creation while postponing its final judgment… (14)

This natural law is organically continuous with the natural law of the original creation, but refracted in modified form through the Noahic covenant. Accordingly, the substance of natural law in the fallen world reflects this covenant’s preservative purposes. Genesis 9:1-7 explicitly highlights only a few natural obligations of fallen image-bearers, and they concern the most basic requirements for the continuation of human society: procreation, eating (plants and animals, but not meat with its blood in it), and enforcement of retributive justice. I have referred to this as the minimalist natural law ethic, about which God has special concern to have observed in his ongoing government of the world. But even Genesis 9:1-7, especially when read in context, suggests that the natural law also continues to be a broader moral order, which points beyond the minimalist ethic to a richer way of life that promotes a modest human flourishing in the fallen world, and which also reminds human beings of their ultimate accountability before God and his judgment. One important way in which natural law is modified after the fall is that it requires the administration of retributive justice to be tempered with forbearance (though not forgiveness), in order to reflect the revelation of God’s own justice and forbearance in the Noahic covenant.

The rest of Scripture subsequent to Genesis 9 offers many occasions to test and enrich these initial conclusions about natural law as sustained under the Noahic covenant, and thus as it concerns the human race as a whole – human beings as fallen human beings. In general, many biblical texts show that human persons, even apart from special prophetic revelation, have a knowledge of their basic moral obligations and that God has particular concern about violations of the minimalist ethic explicit in Genesis 9:1-7. The story of Abraham and Abimelech in Gerar (Genesis 20) illustrates the positive effects of natural law in broader human society, for here people who were strangers to God’s special covenant with Abraham display an impressive interest in justice and the integrity of marriage, and even the fear of God. Negatively, texts describing the temporal judgments God brings upon particular human communities, in anticipation of the final judgment, illustrate sinful humanity’s rebellion against the natural law. God never judges these nations for violations of the Torah, God’s special law for Israel, or for their idolatry or other matters of religious devotion, but for egregious violations of intrahuman justice, committed with a hubristic spirit. This is consistent with the expectations created by the Noahic covenant. (482-3)

So Van Drunen looks in Scripture, not for prescriptive texts, but for descriptive texts (narrative) that show us what fallen men under the Noahic Covenant know innately about natural law. It is his belief that through common grace under the Noahic Covenant, God reveals a revised/refracted natural law to fallen man that they understand with sufficient clarity to rightly order civil society. Thus Christians can and should look to their unbelieving neighbors, to learn how to order society. (A somewhat side note for the libertarians reading this: Van Drunen’s motivation for looking beyond the prescriptive commands of the Noahic Covenant is that he apparently thinks it is too “minimalist.” That is because the only use of the sword/civli government allowed by the text is retributive justice for violent crimes – that is, the non-aggression principle.) He also argues that in regards to the “important epistemological question” of how exactly human beings “know these natural moral obligations” that “insight from human custom may be at least part of the answer to the question of how one knows natural law.” (127)

However, in line with Calvin above, the Canons of Dort specifically note that fallen man’s knowledge of the natural law written on their heart is insufficient to insure they will apply it properly for civil use.

There is, to be sure, a certain light of nature remaining in man after the fall, by virtue of which he retains some notions about God, natural things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral, and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior. But this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to him—so far, in fact, that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society. Instead, in various ways he completely distorts this light, whatever its precise character, and suppresses it in unrighteousness. In doing so he renders himself without excuse before God.

Canons of Dort III.4

Boot picks up on this and asks

In the last century – cultural hegemony – where was it in Hitler’s Germany? Stalin’s Russia? Mao’s China? Polpot’s Cambodia? Moussilini’s Italy? The Ayatollah’s Iran? Where is it today in Canada? You see, the Noahic Covenant is not primarily invoked [by Van Drunen] to show why physical laws and seasons abide, but why we share subjectively the same norms. Why I’m supposed to share subjectively the same norms with my neighbor in the common kingdom. But God’s covenant with Noah says nothing about whether my neighbor will understand and abide by that, only that God stands by his justice. You can’t make a prescriptive text into a descriptive one.

In short, and in conclusion, the 2K view of culture becomes, I think, an exercise in question begging. We don’t need Christian transformation of culture because there’s widespread agreement about norms and cultural questions in our present culture. Claiming this agreement is because of the Noahic covenant is absurd. What is, in fact, notable is the agreement we have enjoyed in recent centuries in the West on some of these things is that it has been the exception to the rule. The western world, Christendom, has been the exception to the rule. The reason for cultural hegemony to the degree we observe it today in the leafy suburbs of Escondido, perhaps, is found in the very place Van Drunen doesn’t want us to look: Christian evangelization of the West and our application of the gospel to every aspect of culture.

This is in regards to statements by Van Drunen such as

[S]ince the flood God issues natural law through the covenant with Noah. (124)

Through it God communicates a natural knowledge of his law to all human beings… (128)

He argues that the content of natural law (which the reformed define as the moral law written on the heart of man) actually changes in the Noahic Covenant. He makes this strange argument because he appears to be following Van Til’s misunderstanding of the meaning of WCF 7.1. Van Til argued that man can only know God through covenant. Knowledge of God apart from covenant is impossible. In this vein, Van Drunen notes “Human beings can only image the God they know, and the God they know is the one who reveals himself in concrete covenantal relationships.” (122) Thus, since the Noahic Covenant modifies the Creation Covenant, the natural law covenantally revealed by each must be different. This is terribly confused and results from his view (derived from Van Til and Kline) “I continue to reject the bifurcation of the ‘natural’ and the ‘covenantal,'” (95-96). A bifurcation of the ‘natural’ and the ‘covenantal’ is the entire point of WCF 7.1. This appears to be at the heart of Van Drunen’s great confusion over epistemological issues. The Noahic Covenant does not change general revelation in any way. The Noahic Covenant is special revelation. It does not change what is written on man’s heart, nor does it promise any perspicuous preservation of what is written on man’s heart.

Boot is correct that Scripture never says the Noahic Covenant insures that fallen men will retain the ability to correctly discern matters of general revelation concerning civil government. He thus presses Tuininga on the persecuted church.

How does God go about changing the common kingdom so that it doesn’t endlessly attack the redemptive, seeing as the grace and special revelation of the redemptive isn’t allowed to transform it? So are we not in an endless dialectic, where we can never even approach a resolution because we have two realms that never seem to touch?

The solution is not to deny the existence of a common kingdom (Boot’s proposal), but rather (contra Van Drunen) to appeal to the text of Scripture to demonstrate the just use of the sword and the purpose of civil law in the common kingdom. We thus apply special revelation to all of society, without mistakenly arguing that all of society is the church or all of society and the world belongs to believers (which is contrary to Scripture). The wheat and the tares are permitted to grow together under the covenant of common preservation and the use of the sword is restricted to retributive justice in response to violent crimes of aggression.

Thus, in order to make sense of the two kingdoms debate, try to separate the question of covenantal structure from the question of revelation. Most who get the question of revelation correct get the question of structure wrong. Most who get the question of structure right get the question of revelation wrong. When you get both of those right, you become a reformed libertarian 🙂

1689 Federalism & Theonomy

April 24, 2015 11 comments

Theonomy may not be heard regularly from pulpits, but it is a view that is alive and well among Christians who take the Bible seriously and are struggling to understand how to apply it to the world they live in.

As appealing as theonomy may be for its apparently simple answer to a difficult subject, it is actually entirely (100%) incompatible with 1689 Federalism. Theonomy, properly defined as the belief that all nations today are obligated to obey Israel’s judicial laws because they have not been abrogated, relies upon an extreme version of the “one substance, multiple administrations” view of covenant theology. It stresses that the Old Covenant is really just the Older Covenant and the New Covenant is just the Newer Covenant – both being administrations of the covenant of grace. Since 1689 Federalism rejects this model, there is no way to hold to both theonomy and 1689 Federalism.

Gary North:

Theonomy, as Greg Bahnsen uses the term.5 is a view of the Bible that argues for the continuing validity of God’s revealed law in every area of life. Bahnsen argues that unless a specific Old Testament law has been abrogated by the New Testament, either by specific revelation or because of an application of a New Testament principle, its authority is still morally and/ or judicially binding. “The methodological point, then, is that we presume our obligation to obey any Old Testament commandment unless the New Testament indicates otherwise. We must assume continuity with the Old Testament rather than discontinuity. This is not to say that there are no changes from Old to New Testament. Indeed, there are — important ones. However, the word of God must be the standard which defines precisely what those changes are for us; we cannot take it upon ourselves to assume such changes or read them into the New Testament.”6

Greg Bahnsen

The fact is that all of the covenants of the Old Covenant (that is, all of the Old Testament covenants) are unified as parts of the one overall covenant of grace established by God. Paul spoke of Gentiles who were not part of the Old Covenant economy which included the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants as “strangers to the covenants of the promise” (Eph. 2:12)…There were many, progressively revealed aspects to the single promise of God in the Old Testament: many administrations of the overall covenant of grace… Given the unity of God’s covenant throughout history and the Bible, then, is it true that Christians living under the New Covenant are not obliged to keep the Old Covenant law (the commandments of the Old Testament, especially those given by Moses)?…[W]e saw that all of the covenants of God are unified into one overall Covenant of Grace, fully realized with the coming of Christ in the New Covenant. So if there is one covenant enjoyed by the people of God throughout the ages, then there is one moral code or set of stipulations which govern those who would be covenant-keepers. Therefore, we must answer that of course New Testament believers are bound to the Old Testament law of God. His standards, just like His covenant, are unchanging. (BTS, 41-42)…

There is no textual indication, however, that the New Covenant brings a new standard of moral conduct, and there is no textual indication that the Old Covenant standard has been categorically laid aside. The Covenantal administrations are dramatically different – in glory, power, realization, and finality – but not as codes defining right and wrong behavior or attitudes. (BTS, 168)

John Owen:

Wherefore the whole law of Moses, as given unto the Jews, whether as used or abused by them, was repugnant unto and inconsistent with the gospel, and the mediation of Christ, especially his priestly office, therein declared; neither did God either design, appoint, or direct that they should be co-existent…

It is not, therefore, the peculiar command for the institution of the legal priesthood that is intended, but the whole system of Mosaical institutions. For the apostle having already proved that the priesthood was to be abolished, he proceeds on that ground and from thence to prove that the whole law was also to be in like manner abolished and removed. And indeed it was of such a nature and constitution, that pull one pin out of the fabric, and the whole must fall unto the ground; for the sanction of it being, that “he was cursed who continued not in all things written in the law to do them,” the change of any one thing must needs overthrow the whole law…

And the whole of this system of laws is called a “command,” because it consisted in “arbitrary commands” and precepts, regulated by that maxim, “The man that doeth these things shall live by them,” Romans 10:5. And therefore the law, as a command, is opposed unto the gospel, as a promise of righteousness by Jesus Christ, Galatians 3:11, 12. Nor is it the whole ceremonial law only that is intended by “the command” in this place, but the moral law also, so far as it was compacted with the other into one body of precepts for the same end; for with respect unto the efficacy of the whole law of Moses, as unto our drawing nigh unto God, it is here considered…

By all these ways was the church of the Hebrews forewarned that the time would come when the whole Mosaical law, as to its legal or covenant efficacy, should be disannulled, unto the unspeakable advantage of the church…

It is therefore plainly declared, that the law is “abrogated,” “abolished… disannulled.”

Exposition of Hebrews 7:12, 18-19

Richard Barcellos

Hearty agreement must be given when New Covenant theologians argue for the abolition of the Old Covenant. This is clearly the teaching of the Old and New Testaments (see Jeremiah 31:31-32; Second Corinthians 3; Galatians 3, 4; Ephesians 2:14-15; Hebrews 8-10). The whole law of Moses, as it functioned under the Old Covenant, has been abolished, including the Ten Commandments. Not one jot or tittle of the law of Moses functions as Old Covenant law anymore and to act as if it does constitutes redemptive-historical retreat and neo-Judaizing. However, to acknowledge that the law of Moses no longer functions as Old Covenant law is not to accept that it no longer functions; it simply no longer functions as Old Covenant law. This can be seen by the fact that the New Testament teaches both the abrogation of the law of the Old Covenant and its abiding moral validity under the New Covenant.

In Defense of the Decalogue, 61.
See also JOHN OWEN AND NEW COVENANT THEOLOGY: Owen on the Old and New Covenants and the Functions of the Decalogue in Redemptive History in Historical and Contemporary Perspective

To be clear, LBCF chapter 19 affirms that the moral law, the decalogue, continues to guide Christians as a rule of righteousness. The difference, however, is that moral law does not continue to guide by virtue of its unabrogated Mosaic establishment. It continues to guide as universal moral standard that transcends all covenants. (For more on this, see JOHN OWEN AND NEW COVENANT THEOLOGY: Owen on the Old and New Covenants and the Functions of the Decalogue in Redemptive History in Historical and Contemporary Perspective).

The point is that the law was given to Israel on Mt. Sinai as a covenant of works. Note Owen “it consisted in “arbitrary commands” and precepts, regulated by that maxim, “The man that doeth these things shall live by them,” Romans 10:5. And therefore the law, as a command, is opposed unto the gospel…” The Old Covenant operated upon the works principle “Do this and live” (Leviticus 18:5). As Owen notes, Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5 to demonstrate that this principle of works is directly opposed to the principle of faith. Thus “with respect unto the efficacy of the whole law of Moses, as unto our drawing nigh unto God, it is here considered…”

The law says “do this”, a covenant of works says “do this and live.” The curses found in the Mosaic covenant (and the blessings) are derived from the law as a covenant of works. Violation of the law brought curses upon individuals and the nation. That is why people were put to death in Israel for violating the moral law. Because it was a covenant of works with life in the balance (Lev 18:5, cited in Gal 3:12 & Rom 10:5). Augustine put it this way

In that testament, however, which is properly called the Old, and was given on Mount Sinai, only earthly happiness is expressly promised. Accordingly that land, into which the nation, after being led through the wilderness, was conducted, is called the land of promise, wherein peace and royal power, and the gaining of victories over enemies, and an abundance of children and of fruits of the ground, and gifts of a similar kind are the promises of the Old Testament. And these, indeed, are figures of the spiritual blessings which appertain to the New Testament; but yet the man who lives under God’s law with those earthly blessings for his sanction, is precisely the heir of the Old Testament, for just such rewards are promised and given to him, according to the terms of the Old Testament, as are the objects of his desire according to the condition of the old man…

[T]he law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old testament [covenant]…

“But the law is not of faith: but The man that doeth them shall live in them.” (Gal 3:12) Which testimony, quoted by the apostle from the law, is understood in respect of temporal life, in respect of the fear of losing which, men were in the habit of doing the works of the law, not of faith; because the transgressors of the law were commanded by the same law to be put to death by the people.

“‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” Deuteronomy 27:26 (cited in Gal 3:10)

The death penalty instituted under the Old Covenant for violation of the moral law was not itself part of the moral law. It was an addition to the moral law given by way of covenant. The shedding of blood by man for violation of the moral law was specifically a curse. Theonomists who believe Christians should enforce Mosaic curses for violation of the moral law are putting Christians under a covenant of works that we have been freed from (Gal 5:1; Acts 15:10).

“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.”
(Deuteronomy 21:22-23, cited in Gal 3:13)

It is specifically this principle of curse for violation of the law that Christ died on the cross for (Gal 3:13). Christians are not under the decalogue as a means to earn their life or lose it. Christ has earned our life and saved us from the curse. (Note, however, that although the Old Covenant was a covenant of works, it was not the covenant of works: it did not deal with eternal blessing and curse)

Rushdoony v Booth

How is Christ’s Kingdom to come? Scripture is again very definite and explicit. The glorious peace and prosperity of Christ’s reign will be brought about ONLY as people obey the covenant law. In Lev. 26, Deut. 28, and all of Scripture, this is plainly stated. There will be peace and prosperity in the land, the enemy will be destroyed, and men will be free of evils only “If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them (Lev. 26:3). The obedience of faith to the law of God produces IRRESISTIBLE BLESSINGS. “And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God” (Deut. 28:2). On the other hand, disobedience leads to IRRESISTIBLE CURSES. . . .

God’s determination of history is thus plainly described in His law. If we believe and obey, then we are blessed and we prosper in Him; if we deny Him and disobey His law, we are cursed and confounded. . . .

-Rushdoony, The Meaning of Postmillennialism, pp. 53-56

God established His covenant with Adam, and again with Noah. It was a dominion covenant. It was man’s authorization to subdue the earth, but under God’s overall authority and under His law. God also covenanted with Abram, changing his name to Abraham, and instituting the sign of His covenant, circumcision. He covenanted with Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, changing his name to Israel, promising to bless Jacob’s efforts (Genesis 32:24-30). God covenanted with Moses and the children of Israel, promising to bless them if they conformed to His laws, but curse them if they disobeyed (Deuteronomy 8:28). The covenant was a treaty, and it involved mutual obligations and promises. The ruler, God, offers the peace treaty to a man or selection of men, and they in turn accept its terms of surrender. The treaty spells out mutual obligations: protection and blessings from the King, and obedience on the part of the servants. It also spells out the term of judgement: cursings from the King in case of rebellion on the part of the servants.

This same covenant is extended to the church today. It covers the institutional church, and it also applies to nations that agree to conform their laws to God’s standards . . . .

-Gary North, Unconditional Surrender

This failure to distinguish between biblical covenants and the way the law functions in each is both the lynchpin and the fatal error of theonomy. Theonomy rests upon what is called “monocovenantalism.” You can see it in the above quote where North says we are under the same covenant as Adam before the fall. You could also say theonomy rests upon “mononomism.” This is why theonomy speaks of God’s law and God’s covenant in the singular.

Compare the above two quotes with Abraham Booth (1689 Federalism).

Now, as the immunities, grants, and honors, bestowed by the King Messiah, are ail of a spiritual nature; his faithful subjects have no reason to wonder, or to be discouraged, at any persecutions, afflictions, or poverty which may befall them. Were his empire of this world, then indeed it might be expected, from the goodness of his heart and the power of his arm, that those who are submissive to his authority, zealous for his honor, and conformed to his image, would commonly find themselves easy and prosperous in their temporal circumstances. Yes, were his dominion of a secular kind, it might be supposed that an habitually conscientious regard to his laws, would secure from the oppression of ungodly men, and from the distresses of temporal want. — Thus it was with Israel under their Theocracy. When the rulers and the people in general were punctual in observing Jehovah’s appointments, the stipulations of the Sinai Covenant secured them from being oppressed bv their enemies, and from any remarkable affliction by the immediate hand of God. Performing the conditions of their National Confederation, they were, as a people, warranted to expect every species of temporal prosperity. Health, and long life, riches, honors, and victory over their enemies, were promised by Jehovah to their external obedience.[ 64] The punishments also, that were denounced against flagrant breaches of the Covenant made at Horeb, were of a temporal kind.[ 65]

In this respect, however, as well as in other things, there is a vast difference between the Jewish, and the Christian economy. This disparity was plainly intimated, if I mistake not, by the opposite modes of divine proceeding, in establishing Jehovah’s kingdom among the Jews, and in founding the empire of Jesus Christ. To settle the Israelitish church, to exalt the chosen tribes above surrounding nations, and to render the ancient Theocracy supremely venerable, the divine Sovereign appeared in terrible majesty. Wasting plagues and awful deaths were often inflicted by eternal justice, on those who dared to oppose, or to oppress, the people of God. An angel was commissioned to destroy the Egyptian first-born; Pharaoh, with his mighty host, were drowned in the Red sea; and the Canaanitish nations were put to the sword, that the subjects of Jehovah might possess their fertile country. Manifest indications these, in connection with express promises, that the special Providence of God would exalt and bless the natural seed of Abraham with temporal felicity; provided they did not violate the Sinai Covenant.

But when the Prince Messiah founded his kingdom, all things were otherwise. No marks of external grandeur attended his personal appearance: and, instead of executing righteous vengeance on those who opposed him, his language was, The Son of man is ‘not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do! — After a life of labour and of beneficence, of poverty and of reproach, he fell a victim to persecution, and a martyr to truth. Such was the plan of divine Providence, respecting Christ our King, and such was the treatment with which he met from the world! Striking intimations, those, that his most faithful subjects would have no ground of discouragement, in any sufferings which might await them; and that, considered as his dependents, spiritual blessings were all they should have to expect.

It must indeed be acknowledged, that as vicious tempers and immoral practices have a natural tendency to impair health, distress the mind, and waste the property; to the exercise of holy affections, and the practice of true godliness, have the most friendly aspect on a Christian’s own temporal happiness, (except so far as persecution intervenes) and on the welfare of society. But then it is evident that this arises from the nature of things, and from the superintendency of common Providence; rather than from the dominion of Christ, as a spiritual monarch. For, so considered, spiritual blessings are all that they have to expect from his royal hand.

By the prophetic declarations of our Lord himself, and by the history of this kingdom, it plainly appears, that among all the subjects of his government, none have been more exposed to persecution, affliction, and poverty, than those who were most eminent for obedience to his laws, and most useful in his empire. The most uniform subjection to his authority, and the warmest zeal for his honor, that ever appeared upon earth; were no security from bitter persecution, from pinching poverty, or from complicated affliction. Our divine Lord, considered as a spiritual sovereign, is concerned for the spiritual interests of those that are under his government. His personal perfections and royal prerogatives, his power and wisdom, his love and care, are therefore to be regarded as engaged, both by office and by promise, — not to make his dependents easy and prosperous in their temporal concerns; but– to strengthen them for their spiritual warfare; to preserve them from finally falling by their invisible enemies; to make all afflictions work together for their good; to render them, in the final issue, more than conquerors over every opposer; and to crown them with, everlasting life.

Our Lord has promised, indeed, that their obedience to his royal pleasure, shall meet with his gracious regards in the present life. Not by indulging them with temporal riches, or by granting them external honor and ease; but by admitting them into more intimate communion with himself, and by rejoicing their hearts with his favor.[ 66] Yes, to deliver from spiritual enemies, and to provide for spiritual wants; to indulge with spiritual riches, and to ennoble with spiritual honors, are those royal acts which belong to Him, whose kingdom is not of this world. In the bestowment of these blessings, the glory of his regal character is much concerned. But millions of his devoted subjects may fall by the iron hand of oppression, starve in obscurity, or suffer accumulated affliction in other ways; without the least impeachment of his power, his goodness, or his care, as the sovereign of a spiritual kingdom.

-Booth, Abraham. An Essay on the Kingdom of Christ (Kindle Locations 1090-1130). Reformed Libertarian.

For more on this, see Abraham Booth’s An Essay on the Kingdom of Christ.

General Equity

A separate question is whether or not nations today may or should enforce the general equity of Israel’s judicial laws in their own civil laws. Here are two resources to help unpack 19.4 of the 2nd London Baptist Confession from a 1689 Federalism perspective:

1 Cor 5:13 is the general equity of Deut 22:21 (TRL)

October 13, 2014 Leave a comment

1 Cor 5:13 is the general equity of Deut 22:21 @ The Reformed Libertarian (sorry, original link was wrong – its working now)

Would love to hear your thoughts

The Natural Law State Church

April 16, 2014 11 comments

As I’ve argued previously, “natural law” two kingdoms theology logically results in theocracy for anyone who recognizes WCF/LBCF 19.2.

Well Kim Riddlebarger has made my point for me:

Then there are those in the current debate who contend, in agreement with Calvin, that it’s the civil magistrate’s duty to enforce the first table of the law. Well, as important as Calvin is in understanding reformed political theory, when Calvin speaks of the role of the civil magistrate, Calvin could not even begin to conceive of a secularist democracy that now rules Europe. And therefore his value in terms of his understanding of how the church ought to relate to the magistrate is limited because of the change in circumstances. And that, I think, is self-evident in the fact that all of the reformed confessions written at the time of the reformation have all been changed in the United States in the articles that deal with the churches relation to the civil magistrate, because the situation here is entirely different than it was in the days of the reformation. And the reformed churches, both Presbyterian and Reformed, acknowledge that.

Let me play a bit of advocacy here: What if Calvin’s right about the civil magistrate? And by the way, I tend to think he is, he’s on the right track here. What would the magistrate enforcing the first table of the law look like in a real world of Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress? Do we really want the magistrate, in it’s current form, to protect the church, it’s gospel, and it’s doctrine? There is a law of unintended consequences and we have to think very, very carefully about the consequences of taking particular actions. It’s one thing to argue, “Yeah, Calvin says we should recover the first table of the law, enforced by the civil magistrate!” Ok, I think there’s a good, biblical basis for that, and I’m going to argue for it. But what’s that gonna look like in the United States? We no longer live in an America with a generic Protestant political establishment…

-Kim Riddlebarger, In the Land of Nod, Part 1: Why This Has Been an Important and Controversial Doctrine @49:30

 

While Adam is building this temple garden in Eden he is under probation, where God has commanded of him perfect obedience. The question is, perfect obedience to what? Well, I would say to the moral law, which is later enshrined and codified in the two tables of the law we commonly speak of as the 10 commandments… Natural law reflects the same commandments written upon the human heart and subsequently revealed on the two stone tablets at Mt. Sinai.

-Kim Riddlebarger, In the Land of Nod, Part 3: Adam in Eden – Tracing the Redemptive Historical Themes of the Two Kingdoms @21:30 and 38:50

 

I think we have to be realists. One of the things that we’ll talk about is, it’s one thing for Christians to very triumphally say “Well, you know what we need, we need to recover the law of God as the standard for civil government.” Well, whether that’s true in theory or not is a separate question. The reality is, “Are we in our lifetimes ever going to live in a country, in a situation where we are under a theocratic state as Israel was in the Old Testament. And the answer to that is “No.” So a lot of the discussion that goes on about the ideal is only so much time wasting because the question we have to deal with, at least that I have to deal with as a pastor having to answer questions for people in my church and in my pews, is “How do we survive in this current situation?” And I’m going to argue that keeping those two kingdoms distinct is a very, very important starting point… So throw out the ideal. We’ll talk about the ideal. The ideal is important, I mean, we ought to look at what the ideal is to understand what ought to be so we can think about a theoretic about how we ought to approach stuff. But the fact is we live in a time and place when we are going to be a minority, a small minority of a minority and we’re going to have to get the best deal that we can in the political kingdom, in the civil kingdom. And that’s just how it is.

-Kim Riddlebarger, In the Land of Nod, Part 4: Adam Cast From Eden – The Birth of the Civil Kingdom @52:30

Thankfully, for the coherence of discussion, Riddlebarger is consistent in his natural law theory. If the civil magistrate is to enforce natural law, then it is to enforce the 10 commandments.

Note: Natural Law Two Kingdoms will not get you to the non-establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution. It will land you in Geneva.

It is interesting to note Riddlebarger’s pragmatism. He says that the ideal (the enforcement of the 10 commandments) is not practical because we live in a different context under a secular government. He says the American reformed churches changed the confession because they were in a different context. But what led to this change in context? Was it the erosion of true religion? Was 18th century colonial American a pagan, secular society? No. 18th century America was very Protestant. What led to the change in context (change in government) is a change in how these men interpreted the Bible. It was not an appeal to natural law to the exclusion of Scripture. Rather, as Charles Hodge explains, it was primarily an appeal to Scripture, to an interpretation that disagreed with Calvin’s interpretation, that led to changes in how Calvinists viewed the state:

The American Church

The doctrine current among us on this subject is of very recent origin. It was unknown to the ancients before the advent. In no country was religion disconnected with the state. It was unknown to the Jews. The early Christians were not in circumstances to determine the duty of Christian magistrates to the Christian church. Since the time of Constantine, in no part of Christendom and by no denomination has the ground been assumed, until a recent period, that the state and church should be separate and independent bodies. Yet to this doctrine the public mind in this country has already been brought, and to the same conclusion the convictions of God’s people in all parts of the world seem rapidly tending. On what grounds, then, does this novel, yet sound, doctrine rest? This question can only be answered in a very general and superficial manner on the present occasion.

1. In the first place it assumes that the state, the family, and the church are all divine institutions, having the same general end in view, but designed to accomplish that end by different means. That as we cannot infer from the fact that the family and the state are both designed to promote the welfare of men, that the magistrate has the right to interfere in the domestic economy of the family; so neither can we infer from the church and state having the same general end, that the one can rightfully interfere with the affairs of the other. If there were no other institution than the family, we might infer that all the means now used by the church and state, for the good of men, might properly be used by the family; and if there were no church, as a separate institution of God, then we might infer that the family and the state were designed to accomplish all that could be effected. But as God has instituted the family for domestic training and government; the state, that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives; and the church for the promotion and extension of true religion, the three are to be kept distinctive within their respective spheres.

2. That the relative duties of these several institutions cannot be learned by reasoning a priori from their design, but must be determined from the Word of God. And when reasoning from the Word of God, we are not authorized to argue from the Old Testament economy because that was avowedly temporary and has been abolished, but must derive our conclusions from the New Testament. We find it there taught:

(a) That Christ did institute a church separate from the state, giving it separate laws and officers.

(b) That he laid down the qualifications of those officers and enjoined on the church, not on the state, to judge of their possession by candidates.

(c) That he prescribed the terms of admission to and the grounds of exclusion from the church, and left with the church its officers to administer these rules.

These acts are utterly inconsistent with Erastianism and with the relation established in England between the church and state.

3. That the New Testament, when speaking of the immediate design of the state and the official duties of the magistrate, never intimates that he has those functions which the common doctrine of the Lutheran and Reformed church assign him. This silence, together with the fact that those functions are assigned to the church and church officers, is proof that it is not the will of God that they should be assumed by the state.

4. That the only means which the state can employ to accomplish many of the objects said to belong to it, viz. pains and penalties, are inconsistent with the example and commands of Christ; with the rights of private Christians, guaranteed in the Word of God (i.e., to serve God according to the dictates of his conscience); are ineffectual to the true end of religion, which is voluntary obedience to the truth; and productive of incalculable evil. The New Testament, therefore, does not teach that the magistrate is entitled to take care that true religion is established and maintained; that right men are appointed to church offices; that those officers do their duty, that proper persons be admitted, and improper persons be rejected from the church; or that heretics be punished. And on the other hand, by enjoining all these duties upon the church, as an institution distinct from the state, it teaches positively that they do not belong to the magistrate, but to the church. If to this it be added that experience teaches that the magistrate is the most unfit person to discharge these duties; that his attempting it has always been injurious to religion and inimical to the rights of conscience, we have reason to rejoice in the recently discovered truth that the church is independent of the state, and that the state best promotes her interests by letting her alone.

– Charles Hodge, The Relation of Church and State originally appeared in Princeton Review in 1863. It is now taken from a recently re-released book of essays by a variety of authors edited by Iain Murray, The Reformation of the Church.

So it was not an appeal to natural law that led to the undoing of state churches, nor was it a degrading of religion in society, but it was the proper interpretation and application of Scripture to the question of civil government. In this regard, Ron Baines has an excellent essay in the first issue of JIRBS titled SEPARATING GOD’S TWO KINGDOMS: Two Kingdom Theology among New England Baptists in the Early Republic.

Categories: two kingdoms

Kuyper on Natural Law

April 15, 2014 4 comments

[We insist] that sin refers to moral fall and guilt, and further, that this fall consisted in three things: a darkening of the light of reason, an impairment of the power of the will, and a corrupting of our affections. From this it follows that without spectacles, as Calvin expressed it, the book of nature can no longer be read, such that neither from nature nor from the light of our reason can we know whether, and if so, in what way, there is any means whereby we may escape the power and guilt of sin. From this flows the need for a further special revelation to be added to nature, having two purposes: both to teach us to understand again the book of Nature, and to open for us the path to reconciliation with God. So we receive a word of God in twofold form: A word of God within the creation, and a word of God with which he adds to created things (Band aan het Woord, 10).

Kuyper, quoted in Nelson Kloosterman – Peering Into a Lawyer’s Brief (Review of VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms)

I agree (though I disagree with the term “book of nature”).

Also referenced:

There is, to be sure, a certain light of nature remaining in man after the fall, by virtue of which he retains some notions about God, natural things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral, and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior. But this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to him—so far, in fact, that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society. Instead, in various ways he completely distorts this light, whatever its precise character, and suppresses it in unrighteousness. In doing so he renders himself without excuse before God.

Canons of Dort III.4

Categories: two kingdoms

Confused Kingdoms

August 17, 2013 Leave a comment

All of this is to say: Michael Horton needs to stop being “baffled” at these characterizations of the Two Kingdoms paradigm. They are taught explicitly and emphatically in the very book he is recommending. Having spent a good deal of time carefully reading VanDrunen’s book, Tim Keller’s generalizations (the immediate source of Horton’s ire) strike me as perfectly reasonable and fair.

In my carefully considered opinion, David VanDrunen argues for an almost complete dualistic split between heavenly and earthly callings. If Horton wants to put Humpty Dumpty back together again and view them as unified and complimentary, I suggest he walk down the hall and have a nice, long visit with his colleague. Because from the looks of Horton’s blog post, the right hand at WSCAL doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.

Putting Humpty Dumpty Together Again

Categories: two kingdoms