Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Westminster Confession and Judicial Law: The Anti-Theonomic Misrepresentations of Matthew Winzer: Part 1 (By Vindiciæ Legis)

Critique of the Section Entitled Expiry of the judicial laws in 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), 67-70.

George Gillespie:  "We nowhere
read in all the new Testament of
the abolishing of the Judicial law,
so far as it did concern the
punishing of sins against the
Moral law." Gillespie, Wholesome
, 8.

Expiry of the judicial laws

Winzer samples statements from a few but well representative Westminster divines. He aims to prove, as our title suggests, that the generality of the Westminster Assembly believed that all O.T. judicial laws are now expired and, furthermore, that they held a restricted view of Matt. 5: 17. Namely that the Lord was only speaking of the moral law and not the ceremonial or judicial.

Winzer’s claims concerning the Assembly’s view of Expiry present a very differentpicture than that given by the London Presbyterian divine, Thomas Edwards. Although not a member of the Assembly, Edwards was the very influential lecturer at Christ Church, Newgate Street. London Presbyterian ministers had appointed him to this position, to deal with the issues of Toleration and Independency, during the time of the Assembly.

In his 1647 work on toleration, “A Casting Down of the Last and Strongest Hold of Satan” Edwards sees the “judicial lawes” as “the appendixes of the morall Law in matters of justice and judgement” and similarly speaks of “the morall Law and the Appendix of it the judicial Law.”[1] The greatly respected puritan scholar, William Ames (1576-1633) even spoke of these appendices as part of the Decalogue: “Now as the bounds and wall which defended the house was reckon’d as one with the house,” wrote Ames, “so these appendixes to the commandements make but one Decalogue.”[2] To Edwards and Ames the judicial laws were inseparable from the moral law in “matters of justice and judgement.” By contrast, and as we shall see, Winzer apparently views them as discarded.

In the same work Edwards, distinguishes two separate camps. The first camp is composed of “them that hold the judicial lawes totally abrogated.” The second is “the generality of Orthodox Divines.”[3] Although he was addressing another issue, the obvious implication is that those “who hold the judicial lawes totally abrogated” were not among “the generality of Orthodox Divines.” Thus we have a conflict of opinion between Edwards and Winzer. As a Presbyterian divine and an arch defender of Presbyterian orthodoxy, active during the Assembly in London until his 1647 exile and death in Holland,[4] Edwards’ opinion is definitive. Winzer’s is not.

It will best suit our purpose to deal with Winzer’s material in a different order from that originally given. First we will examine how he deals with George Gillespie’s view of the judicial law. Along with Rutherford and others, Gillespie was chosen as a Scottish commissioner to the Westminster Assembly. He was active in debates and had significant influence on the final formulation of the WCF.[5] Although Gillespie is Winzer’s last example, this starting point will help illustrate Winzer’s methodology and cavalier dismissal of evidence that does not fit his case. Winzer writes:
“The only writer to include the judicials in the referent of Matthew 5: 17 is George Gillespie: ‘Christ’s words (Matt. 5: 17), Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the Prophets, I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill, are comprehensive of the judicial law, it being a part of the law of Moses’(‘Chronology:’ 22). It is evident, however, that he is not giving his own interpretation but is simply showing the opinion of Johannes Piscator.”[6]
It is true that Gillespie is “showing the opinion” of Piscator, but it is not true that he “is simply showing” his opinion. On the contrary, he is quoting him with complete affirmation, adopting the words of Piscator as his own. When introducing Piscator he says:
“I shall wish him who scruples this [the continuing judicials] to read Piscator’s appendix[7]… where he excellently disputes this question, whether the Christian Magistrate is bound to observe the judicial laws of Moses, as well as the Jewish Magistrate was.”[8]

“Now that the Christian Magistrate is bound to observe these judicial laws of Moses, which appoint the punishments of sins against the moral law, he proves by these reasons.”[9]
Addressing the person with scruples, meaning in this context doubts and reservations, he affirms that Piscator  “excellently disputes this question.” He then quotes seven arguments from Piscator including the above reference to Matt. 5: 17, stating that Piscator “proves by these reasons” the continued obligation of the judicial law. Gillespie, of all people, surely would not use what he thinks is a misapplied biblical reference as
proof to satisfy the scruples of a doubter! Like Piscator, as already quoted, he holds that the words of Matt. 5: 17 “are comprehensive of the judicial law, it being a part of the law of Moses…”

Gillespie closes his seven arguments of Piscator by stating:
“These are not my reasons (if it be not a word or two added by way of explaining and strengthening) but the substance of Piscator's reasons. Unto which I add… yet we no where read in all the new Testament of the abolishing of the judicial law, so far as it did concern the punishing of sins against the moral law...”[10]
He makes no criticism of Piscator but in the process of adopting his reasons, he has added “a word or two” to explain and strengthen them. Furthermore, the phrase “Unto which I add” suggests he has not only adopted Piscator’s reasons but also wishes to add further reasons of his own to make them more complete. Gillespie says in his own words: “yet we no where read in all the new Testament of the abolishing of the judicial law, so far as it did concern the punishing of sins against the moral law.” What could be clearer?

Like the modern Theonomist he sees the judicial law as largely the judicial implementation of the moral law. Furthermore, it is a very strange idea that someone who uses the expression “we nowhere read in all the new Testament of the abolishing of the Judicial law” would think that Matt. 5: 17 excludes the judicial law. Why would Gillespie, who believes in its continued obligation, arbitrarily exclude that same law from Matt. 5: 17? Winzer produces no evidence that he does.

Rather, the evidence makes it clear that, as far as the moral law and judicial law are concerned, Gillespie would have fully supported Winzer’s quotation from Greg Bahnsen:
“Nothing in the text [Matt. 5: 17] supports a restriction of this term’s referent to the moral law. Jesus is saying that He did not come to abrogate any part of the law” (TICE, 48) [11] [12]
To this quotation Winzer adds the following footnote:
“It should be noted that Greg Bahnsen does not accept that any law has been set aside, including the ceremonials. The ceremonial system is simply regarded as having been made ineffective by its fulfilment in Christ, and for that reason it is not to be practised by believers in the New Testament. For a discussion of this point see Greg L. Bahnsen, TICE, 209, 210.”
Although he sees the ceremonial law abolished as far as any ritualistic observance is concerned, Gillespie would surely agree with Bahnsen that Christ came to confirm it by making complete satisfaction for the sins of his people and in his continuing high-priestly intercession for them. The reader of “TICE, 209, 210” and the surrounding pages, will see that Bahnsen fully agrees with the WCF that the ceremonial law is abrogated in the sense that “it is not to be practised by believers in the New Testament.” But that is an entirely different point from the one he is making in the above quotation.

Bahnsen’s position on the inclusion of the ceremonials in Matt. 5: 17 is just the same as Calvin’s:
“With respect to ceremonies, there is some appearance of a change having taken place; but it was only the use of them that was abolished, for their meaning was more fully confirmed. The coming of Christ has taken nothing away even from ceremonies, but, on the contrary, confirms them by exhibiting the truth of shadow.”[13]
(posts in this series: part 1, part 2,  part 3part 4

Read entire series in PDF

See also the series Theonomy, the Westminster Confession and Antinomianism: The Fallacies of Matthew Winzer (by Vindiciae Legis) (part 1part 2)

1. Thomas Edwards, The Casting Down of the last and strongest hold of Satan, or, a Treatise against Toleration and pretended Liberty of Conscience (London: Printed by T. R. and F. M. for George Calvert, 1647), 110, 112. Page numbering in this work is irregular and sometimes repeated. Edwards’ position on the judicial law is similar to that of Gillespie. Like Gillespie he makes extensive reference to Piscator, and agrees that the words of Matt. 5: 17 “are comprehensive of the Judiciall Law.” (p. 54ff.)

2. William Ames, Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof (Puritan Reprints, 2010), 194-95. Ames is similarly cited in Ross, Richard J., “Distinguishing Eternal and Transient Law in Early Modern England: The Judicial Laws of Moses and Natural Law.” No date.
http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/faculty-workshops/ross.eternal.transient.law.march.2010.doc [27 Oct.2010]. The author does not use the term Theonomy and classifies the puritans as Mosaic legalists. However, the insightful reader will see much that confirms the puritans were indeed theonomists.

3. Edwards, 82. Edwards is addressing the issue of judicial law in the Decalogue. One example given is from the fifth commandment: “that thy dayes may be long upon the Land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” Like most modern Theonomists, Edwards here allows that many “accessories, accidentals and circumstantials” are no longer binding as long as the substance of the law is preserved. Stoning is his case in point.

4. This happened when Cromwell’s army regained control of the city of London on August 4th, 1647. Sadly, he died of an “ague” shortly after.

5. Westminster Confession of Faith.

6. Confessional Presbyterian, 5: 69. Quotation as in George Gillespie, “Wholesome Severity Reconciled with Christian Liberty,” The Anonymous Writings of George Gillespie, ed. Chris Coldwell (Dallas TX: Naphtali Press, 2008), 56.
7. Johannes Piscator, Disputations on the Judicial Laws of Moses, trans. Adam Brink (Junius Brutus Tractate Society, 2010), available from www.lulu.com.

8. Gillespie, 56.

9. Ibid., 56.

10. Ibid., 57.

11. Confessional Presbyterian, 5: 69.

12. Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Nutley, New Jersey: The Craig Press 1979).

13. John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke, trans. William Pringle, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 1: 277, 278.

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