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)
- Compare Why PR2K?
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)
- Compare Why PR2K? and God the Benevolent Scientist and Two Kingdoms Debate Analysis and Spectacles Prescribed: A Review of VanDrunen’s “A Biblical Case for Natural Law”
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)
- Compare The Theonomy Debate: Analysis
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)
- Compare 1 Cor 5:13 is the general equity of Deut 22:21 (“the stipulation “that some punishment by the sword be inflicted” is positive law, not natural/moral law.)
[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)
- Compare 1689 Federalism & Theonomy and How Christians Should Regard Moses (Luther) and Augustine: Proto-1689 Federalist (on the Jersualem above vs the Jerusalem below) and They Are Not All Israel Who Are of Israel
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)
- This is known as the “subservient covenant” view. Compare 1689Federalism.com and An Essay on the Kingdom of Christ by Abraham Booth and Calvin vs 1689 Federalism on Old vs New and Thomas Scott on the Mosaic Covenant and all of the “Old Covenant” posts here.
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)
- Compare 1 Cor 5:13 is the general equity of Deut 22:21 and An Essay on the Kingdom of Christ by Abraham Booth and Increase Mather’s Principles of Toleration
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)
- Compare An Essay on the Kingdom of Christ by Abraham Booth and John Erskine’s “The Nature of the Sinai Covenant” and A.W. Pink on Moses & Republication
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.
- Compare The Avenger of Blood
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)
- Compare Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea and Horton’s “Contrived Empire” and a forthcoming post on 1 Corinthians 5:12
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)
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.
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.
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 🙂
Why is this good news for Darryl Hart? Well, because Darryl Hart believes very strongly that the Bible should never be used in determining public policy and state laws. It should never even influence people who make those laws. The problem is, it’s really, really difficult to find a society that is completely ignorant of and unaffected by the Bible – in other words, a society who relies only upon general revelation (which Hart says they must).
But now we finally have the solution! All we need to do is send someone into the jungle to observe how this tribe’s government functions, and then implement the same form of government here. That way we will finally be free of the Bible’s influence and we can finally have the type of government God wants us to have!
If you’re going to take political action that is going to compromise the gospel, then you are sealing your own doom. Over the past 50 years, conservatives have spent tens of billions of dollars lobbying, trying to elect candidates, trying to organize in various ways. When I was a kid, I was out passing out literature for Barry Goldwater, back in 1964.
And what has it gained? Are we any better off, to borrow a campaign slogan – are we better off today than we were 50 years ago? What have all those conservatives and libertarians done with those billions of dollars that has shown any improvement in the political or the moral climate of the country?
Now, if that money had been put into the preaching of the gospel – the uncompromised, unvarnished, pure gospel, perhaps there would be something completely different to show for it. But it was put into compromised political action, and there’s nothing to show for it. Absolutely nothing. Tens of billions of dollars – when you think of all the campaigns, all the organizations.
And I’ve been involved – my [PhD] degree’s in political theory, political philosophy. I’ve been interested in politics all my life and have been involved from time to time, working on Capitol Hill. And I learned a very good lesson on Capitol Hill – that what happens there is of little consequence. That if one is interested in changing society, you don’t go to Capitol Hill, you preach the gospel.
If anybody is operating under the illusion that political action is going to make a significant change in society apart from a sea change in the beliefs in the American people, then they’re condemned to futility. They will waste their lives.
I am strongly committed to the biblical understanding of two kingdoms: the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of earth. Paul did make it clear that the ministers of the sword (the state) serve God, but Christ also made it clear that His kingdom is not of this world. Here is a sermon I preached on John 18:28-38 http://www.porticochurch.com/messages/John_18_28_20071118.mp3 in which I speak against what I see as an unbiblical focus on transforming culture.
I make an effort to point this out because every time I address this issue I am simply mis-categorized as a “transformationist” or theonomist and thus ignored. I am neither, so please give me a couple minutes of your time.
Two Kingdoms Natural Law
A very prominent form of two kingdom theology today is advocated primarily by Westminster California, led by David VanDrunen. You can find a helpful overview on WSC’s Jan. 6 Office Hours Podcast. This view is largely a response to theonomy (the view that the Mosaic case laws, or judicial laws, ie stoning, should be enforced in detail by every nation on earth). They correctly oppose theonomy by pointing out the distinction between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of this earth. (They could also counter theonomy by adopting A. W. Pink or John Owen’s views of the Mosaic Covenant)
However, they take this view one step further and say the kingdom of heaven is ruled by the Bible and the kingdoms of earth are ruled by natural law. This is precisely where I disagree. Such a view is nonsensical. Natural law, the law written on the hearts of all men, is the moral law, the 10 commandments. This is the unanimous Reformed view as stated particularly in the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 19
I. God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it; and endued him with power and ability to keep it.
II. This law, after his Fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon mount Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two tables; the first four commandments containing our duty toward God, and the other six our duty to man.
Therefore, to say the kingdoms of this world are ruled by natural law and should enforce natural law is to say that they are ruled by the 10 commandments and should enforce the 10 commandments.
Two Kingdoms Theocracy?
The result of such a view winds up exactly where they claim to not want to be: a theocracy. R. Scott Clark wrote a post against homosexual marriage called Natural Law, the Two Kingdoms, and Homosexual Marriage in which he appeals to the state’s duty to enforce the creation laws regarding marriage.
The magistrate has a right and a duty to enforce marriage and divorce laws in order to enforce natural, creational boundaries in the same way he has a duty to protect a society from theft and fraud… I argue that the state should regulate marriage on the basis of natural, creational law and that those who advocate pushing back the boundaries of marriage to include homosexual marriage are advocating the recognition of the violation of natural, creational law…
Such a statement would seem to be subject to my criticism above. If the state has a duty to enforce natural law, the law of creation, then it has a duty to enforce the moral law. To say one is to say the other. Clark anticipates this objection and says:
To anticipate an objection, this is not a theocratic argument. It is not the magistrate’s duty to police every sort of violation of natural law and sin. For example, no one but theocrats want the state enforcing obedience to the first table of the law. The magistrate’s natural sphere of concern and authority is in the second table.
If that is R. Scott Clark’s view, then how is it any different from those who say the state should enforce the second table of the moral law (such as John W. Robbins and J. Gresham Machen)? Answer: It’s not different.
Clark even states 2K Natural Law does not mean the state should enforce every natural law. Well, if that’s the case, then again, what is the point in making a distinction between moral law and natural law and then saying the church is ruled by one and the state is ruled by the other? There is no point. It is an invalid distinction.
[Note that D. G. Hart’s precise criticism of Kloosterman in this post http://oldlife.org/2009/12/21/if-not-two-kingdoms-two-decalogues/ is that he divides the the Decalogue into two tables. Thus Hart’s criticism would equally apply to Clark’s natural law position, which Hart is supposedly defending.]
Lee Irons makes the same criticism of the 2K Natural Law view (though at this point I do not agree with Irons’ conclusion regarding the duty of the state):
Clark seems to be saying that the state has a moral obligation or duty to enforce the moral law (= natural law), a duty that itself derives from moral/natural law. My problem with this is that, if logically carried through, this will lead to a view of civil government that is just as theocratic as that desired by the theonomists. The only difference so far as I can tell is that on Clark’s view there would be more leeway in the specifics of the penal code…
…Most theonomists would be perfectly happy with a state run on natural law principles, since they argue that the general equity of the Mosaic Law is identical with natural/moral law as revealed via general revelation (cp. Bahnsen, No Other Standard, pp. 206, 222).
Again, I agree with the Reformed doctrine of natural law. It is biblical (Romans 1). I’m merely objecting to the claim that it is the moral duty of the state to enforce it in society.
But R. Scott Clark is too smart to miss this point. So what is he really trying to say? Well, his practical position is really that the state is obligated to enforce laws that are derived from fallen man’s observation of himself. I cut his quote short earlier. Here it is in its entirety:
I argue that the state should regulate marriage on the basis of natural, creational law and that those who advocate pushing back the boundaries of marriage to include homosexual marriage are advocating the recognition of the violation of natural, creational law [recognized in the West by pagans and Christians for two thousand years.]
Thus, the argument against homosexual marriage is not a “theocratic” argument, but an argument from the nature of things grounded in natural revelation, in the most fundamental observations about how human beings relate to one another, about what it is to be human, about what it is to be a civil society, about what a family is, and ultimately, that there really is such a thing as nature or creation itself that limits the choices of sovereign, ostensibly autonomous late modern humans.
This is the inevitable conclusion that “natural law” must lead to. Natural law will ultimately find no need and no place for God, precisely because it is natural law, not supernatural law. It is quickly reduced to fallen man looking inside himself and at others to decide “what is right in his own eyes.” Irons notes:
Another problem with the appeal to natural law as the principle for determining the positive enforcement duties of the civil magistrate is that we live in a pluralistic society in which the very content of natural law itself is highly contested at critical points. Many citizens believe, for example, that committed same-sex relationships are not in any way sinful. Again, I affirm that the these people are wrong, and that deep down they know they are wrong. I know that because I believe the Bible’s teaching concerning the content of natural law (e.g., Romans 1). But such an appeal to Scripture will have minimal persuasive value in the public square. A natural law theorist may not go out with the intention of making a naked appeal to Scripture. He may try appealing to various arguments that support his interpretation of natural law, keeping his biblical beliefs out of play to achieve maximum rhetorical effect. But since the ultimate epistemic basis for his interpretation of natural law is Scripture, at the end of the day this will come to light at some point in the argument and it will become evident that he is not really making a good-faith religiously-neutral appeal.
Here are two related posts of mine to elaborate on this problem, and comments I made on D. G. Hart’s blog:
If Not Two Kingdoms, Two Decalogues (note Hart’s fundamental misunderstanding of natural law. He rejects WCF’s definition and instead argues that natural law is that which we can observe in ourselves and others. It may be true that the foundation of the state should be our observations of nature – but that is not the same thing as the law of creation.)
Then What Are We to Do?
This is not an easy question to answer. Appealing to natural law in opposition to Scripture is erroneous, arguing for theonomy misunderstands the Mosaic covenant, and arguing for theocracy misunderstands the kingdom of heaven. I am not certain I have arrived at an answer, but J. Gresham Machen’s words (echoed by Gordon Clark and John W. Robbins) make sense.
What then is the remedy for the threatened disruption of society and for the rapidly progressing decay of liberty?
There is really only one remedy. It is the rediscovery of the law of God.
If we want to restore respect for human laws, we shall have to get rid of this notion that judges and juries exist only for the utilitarian purpose of the protection of society, and shall have to restore the notion that they exist for the purposes of justice. They are only very imperfect exponents of justice, it is true. There are vast departments of life with which they should have nothing whatever to do. They are exceeding their God-given function when they seek to enforce inward purity or purity of the individual life, since theirs is the business only of enforcing – and that in necessarily imperfect fashion – that part of righteousness which concerns the relations between man and man. But they are instruments of righteousness all the same, and when that is not recognized, disaster follows for the state. Society will never be preserved by attaching savage penalties to trifling offences because the utilitarian interests of society demand it; it will never be preserved by the vicious practice (followed by some judges) of making ‘examples’ of people is spasmodic and unjust fashion because such examples are thought to have a salutary effect as a deterrent from future crim. No, we say, let justice never be lost from view – abstract, holy, transcendent justice – no matter what the immediate consequences may be thought to be. Only so will the ermine of the judge again be respected and the ravages of decadence be checked.
-The Christian View of Man p. 193
[Update: I just read a very helpful post over at Feeding On Christ that I highly recommend: Theonomy, Two Kingdoms, and a Middle Road)
Modern Two Kingdoms theology has never, ever made sense to me. In very short summary, the position of Two Kingdom advocates (spearheaded by David VanDrunen) is that there is no such thing as a Christian worldview. They are emphatic that the Bible is only supposed to be used in the church and that it must not be used in issues of civil government, work, or even family.
The most absurd part is that they argue everything that is not governed by the Bible, which is everything except church, is to be governed my natural law. It does not matter if you point out to them that natural law is simply the law of God written on the hearts of all men, the same law that has been clarified for us in the Bible.
When I attempted to point this out to a Two Kingdoms advocate recently at Darryl Hart’s blog, they insisted that natural law provides us with all kinds of information necessary to live life. Because this person was a plumber, his example was plumbing:
Anyway, Christian plumbing is my turf here, your talking to a 4th generation plumber (I worked on the business end mostly though). I would argue that observation and natural revelation and all true domains of human knowledge are inextricably linked. General revelation functions to point to a Creator who sets up a functional cosmos; it also informs us on how the cosmos functions. All cosmic functions necessarily operate within the laws of nature whether they are moral or amoral. Plumbing is entirely dependent on natural revelation/natural law even though it is amoral. Let me explain…
There are many laws of nature that have to me navigated in even the most simple plumbing process such as soldering copper pipe which has taken mankind a few thousand years to master. It takes a understanding of the metallurgical properties of copper that make it desirable as a potable water delivery system: copper is malleable and resistant to corrosion and relatively abundant and easy to extract (which makes it inexpensive in relation to other non corrosive metals). Soldering itself requires an understanding of welding, which in this case requires the binding of two different metals to form a seal sufficiently tight so as to be impenetrable by water molecules, which again is governed by fundamental laws of chemistry. I could go on to explain how hydro-mechanical principles govern waterflow, but I won’t bore you with more details. I am sure though that nearly every vocational discipline, including the justice system interact so much with natural law that it would be staggering to draw out the processes in entirety.
When I pointed out that the “law” of gravity is something completely different than the law of God, and advised not to confuse the two, I received the following reply:
We must be using different dictionaries. I am really not sure how you can maintain that functionally physical laws and moral laws operate on different planes. They can be violated, but there are consequences. Yes, I do agree that natural law includes the moral code written on the human heart, but that is simply because these exist in a larger cosmic system where God created a good universe that worked just as he designed it to. It is precisely because of this that governments operate off of general revelation even if imperfectly and/or unknowingly. Why else would we have similarities in Hammurabi and Moses, Roman law and American law. Discontinuities are a given, but the commonality of law, and prevasively political nature of human history even in the absence of special revelation testifies to the sufficiency of natural law in the political arena.
I’m not making this stuff up. I suggested we go ahead and look at the dictionary, naively thinking it would help clarify things with this man:
law: 1a: a rule or order that it is advisable or obligatory to observe
synonyms law, rule, regulation, precept, statute, ordinance, canon mean a principle governing action or procedure. law implies imposition by a sovereign authority and the obligation of obedience on the part of all subject to that authority
Precept: 1 : a command or principle intended especially as a general rule of action
2 : an order issued by legally constituted authority to a subordinate official
That is what law means when we talk about the law of God and natural law. Way down in definition 6 is a different definition for things like the “law” of gravity:
6 a : a statement of an order or relation of phenomena that so far as is known is invariable under the given conditions
synonyms: see in addition hypothesis
God’s law is not God’s law because God saw what would naturally occur if we committed adultery and he wanted to protect us from those natural consequences. It is God’s law because He sovereignly imposed it on those bearing His image as a rule for what ought and ought not to be done.
Furthermore, are you suggesting that the “law” of gravity is just a statement of what ought to be done? Are you suggesting that we should all obey the law of gravity, meaning we should not violate it by floating around? I didn’t think so.
one definition is prescriptive, the other is descriptive.
The prescriptive nature of moral law is something that I believe flows from the descriptive nature of natural law…
…The prescriptive command: “Don’t jump off of a cliff” presupposes (the is) gravity. Assuming a person values his life, the moral implication of the isness of gravity is that one ought not act out in a way where gravity becomes a life-threatening reality. I would argue that the Decalogue extrapolates its prescriptions from the ises of God’s character and from the world he creates.
How else can the psalmist claim that the heavens tell of the glory of God if there is no revelatory value in nature itself that cannot be extracted from even cursory observation?
So the Decalogue is really just a hypothesis about nature. Maybe God should have submitted it to a peer review journal?
See related: Karl Popper and the Emperor’s Clothes