Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Theonomy, the Westminster Confession and Antinomianism: The Fallacies of Matthew Winzer: Part 2 (by Vindiciæ Legis)

Critique of an argument on page 84 of Matthew Winzer’s article: “The Westminster Assembly & the Judicial Law: A Chronological Compilation and Analysis. Part Two: Analysis,” appearing in The Confessional Presbyterian, volume 5 (2009)

Samuel Rutherford, theonomist:
 "God only, not any mortal man, must
 determine the punishment due..." 
(A Free Disputation against Pretended Liberty
of Conscience
, 309,  speaking of capital crimes).
In the above quotations (see part 1) Burgess is writing against antinomians. He is not writing against theonomists either ancient or modern. But Winzer attempts to capitalize on Burgess’s point that antinomians believe that the condemnation, “damning act,” of a law is included in its primary essence. He, in effect, alleges that the first quote from Bahnsen (above) demonstrates that theonomists and antinomians both share a common premise.  Let’s for the moment suppose they do.

Here it looks suspiciously like Winzer is attempting to smear theonomists in general and Bahnsen in particular by associating them with antinomians. Winzer does this in the full knowledge that they would use the premise to reach very different and incompatible conclusions.

But what does such a common premise prove? Nothing at all! Don’t Christians share a common premise with wicked men and devils? The premise is “that there is one God.”  This premise “the devils also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19). Winzer’s logic seems to be:

Antinomians are heretics.

Bahnsen shares a common premise with antinomians.

Therefore Bahnsen is a heretic.

Obviously, this is a logical fallacy of the most elementary kind. I doubt if Winzer would wish to use the same “logic” against Manton.

Winzer even alleges that Bahnsen’s “theonomic-antinomian assumption” is in conflict with the WCF (19. 6). Why? Because Winzer says the WCF maintains “that the law continues to exercise the binding nature of law upon believers even when it has no power to condemn them.” However, he should consider that the only way sins of believers are forgiven is by the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ who, as their surety [1] and substitute, satisfied every sanction (penalty) against their sins to the utmost farthing.  The law “has no power to condemn them” because the Lord was condemned in their place and on their behalf. The condemnation was real and the penalty was real, very real.  He should also consider that only an outright antinomian would reckon that the sins of believers are completely without consequence to themselves.

Is it possible that Winzer is just being consistent with his denial of the absolute necessity of the atonement for man to be saved?[2] For Winzer, salvation through Christ’s atoning work is only necessary because God has (arbitrarily?) decreed it so. Assuming consistency on Winzer’s part, he will not, therefore, believe in (a) the necessity for a Holy God to punish sin, and (b) the corresponding necessity for Divine Law to contain penalties. He should be completely content to separate the law of God from the justice of God. This also seems to be demonstrated by the negative view of Reformed ethics throughout his entire article.

Sadly, Samuel Rutherford also held the same error on the absolute necessity of the atonement.[3] However, it appears to have had little, if any, effect on his views of law and ethics.

In conclusion we can say that Winzer has failed to meet his apparent objectives for this part of his article.  Bahnsen, Burgess and Rutherford all agree that God’s law, when violated, requires full punishment for disobedience. There may be small differences between Bahnsen and Burgess but nothing like as major as Winzer pretends. On the other hand there may be complete agreement. The quotations supplied by Winzer do nothing to prove otherwise.

(posts in this series: part 1, part 2)

read entire piece on PDF


1.   Anthony Burgess, Vindiciae Legisor, A Vindication of the Morall Law and the Covenants, From the Errours of Papists, Arminians, Socinians and more especially Antinomians. In XXX Lectures, preached at Laurence-Jury, London. The second Edition corrected and augmented (London: James Young, for Thomas Underhill, 1647), 6.

In view of Winzer’s denial of the absolute necessity of the atonement (mentioned later), it seems likely that he will take issue with Burgess here on the transgressor’s need for “a surety in his roome.”

2. Start here on the Puritan Board and follow Winzer’s engagements with Daniel Ritchie.  Link accessed: September 22, 2010. Later on in the interaction, in a post on page 2 dated December 5, 2007, Winzer says, “It is ‘absolutely’ possible that God could have forgiven sin by a mere declaration, but then it raises a series of questions respecting what else might have been differently decreed.” (Thanks are due to Daniel Ritchie for drawing our attention to this.)

3. “I love not to dispute here, but God, if we speak of God’s absolute Power without Respect to his free Decree, he could have pardoned Sin without a Ransom, and gifted all Mankind and fallen Angels with Heaven without any Satisfaction of either the Sinner or his Surety; for he neither punisheth Sin, nor tenders Heaven to Men or Angels, by Necessity of Nature, as the Fire casteth out Heat, and the Sun Light; but freely.” Samuel Rutherford, Christ Dying, and Drawing Sinners to Himself (Edinburgh: Printed for James Weir, Merchant in Cerford, 1727), 8. [Publishing details and date may contain errors because of unclear copy.] A similar quotation is given in the Prefatory Note to John Owen, “A Dissertation on Divine Justice,” vol. 10 of The Works of John Owen (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), 482. Owen masterfully refutes the errors of Samuel Rutherford and others on this issue.

More Manton quotations:

“The law can never be satisfied, as for fallen man, but by an active and passive obedience—that is, by suffering what is imposed, or by doing what is commanded by the law; for in the law there were two things, the precept and the sanction, the duty and the penalty” (Complete Works, 14: 10).
(Note how Manton relates his point to the active and passive obedience of Christ.)

“In the precept there is the rule of man's duty, in the sanction the rule of God’s judgment or judiciary proceedings with him. And wherever this law is set up, there God is said to ‘judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth,’ Ps. lxvii. 4 ; that is, to set up holy and righteous decrees, fitted for the benefit of mankind” (Complete Works, 20: 217).

“It is a disbelief of the promises and threatenings wherewith the law is enforced; for in the law, besides the precept, there is a sanction by penalties and rewards. In the two former considerations, we considered sin as it transgresseth the precept of the law; now we come to consider the sanction of the law, as it offereth death or life to the transgressors and observers of it: Deut. xxx. 15, ‘I have set before thee life and death, good and evil’” (Complete Works, 20: 507).

Note: Manton appears to differ from the more Scholastic/Thomistic definition of law used by Burgess. For Burgess the essence of the law, the primary and indispensible components, is both direction and obligation. For Manton the indispensible components are precept (direction) and sanction (rewards/penalties). They were of course dealing with different audiences: Burgess was delivering a series of learned lectures and Manton was preaching for the general hearer. Arguably, their differences are semantic but, if not, then the question to be resolved is, which is the more Biblical definition?

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