Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Westminster Confession and Judicial Law: The Anti-Theonomic Misrepresentations of Matthew Winzer: Part 2 (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.

Samuel Rutherford, encouraged to
Godly action by Thomas Edwards:
"I have been long silent, but when
I did see not long ago privileges of
state, if in a feather violated must
be judged bloody and unexpiable
by sacrifice, or any way else, and
heresies, fundamental blasphemies,
foul inventions of men, are thought
to be zealous errors, godly fancies,
things of the mind
not to be spoken
against, except [by] M. Tho. Edwards,
or any other who out of zeal to God,
cry against the New altar, would
be charged to sin against the Holy
, therefore I dare not but give
a Testimony for the truth." Samuel
Rutherford, A Survey of the Spiritual
, p. A. 2.

Winzer attempts to demonstrate that the Westminster divines used a “restrictive” interpretation of Matt. 5: 17, 18 which limited the reference to the moral law alone.[1] He claims they excluded the ceremonial and judicial laws. In doing so, he ignores the facts that such a restriction would be completely arbitrary and that the ceremonial and judicial laws have their lasting foundation in the moral law.

Any fair reading of Gillespie shows that he did not subscribe to such restrictionism, at least as far as the judicial law is concerned. However, Winzer quotes four other Westminster divines to prove his thesis that the Assembly, as a whole, approved a restricted interpretation of this verse.[2] He quotes Samuel Rutherford:
“God commandeth as a Law-giver in the Gospel, all that eternall righteousnesse which hee commandeth in the Law; for neither the Gospel, nor Christ dissolveth one tittle or jot of the eternall Morall Law of God” (Spirituall Antichrist, 2.120).[3]
Rutherford mentions only the moral law in this allusion to Matt. 5: 18. But his act of including the moral law does not, by itself, mean that the ceremonial and judicial laws are excluded. After all, a statement simply showing that A is included, is not proof that B and C are excluded. This quotation, therefore, does nothing to demonstrate “restrictionism” on Rutherford’s part. It does not settle the issue, one way or the other, especially when an allusion is used rather than a quotation.

What Winzer fails to tell his readers is that the context is antinomianism, not the dissection of the law into its various parts. Rutherford is refuting the antinomian heretic, John Saltmarsh. The emphases of antinomianism are that believers are no longer under the moral law and that, in large measure, it may no longer be enforced by the civil magistrate. In such a context, George Gillespie or even Greg Bahnsen could have made a similar allusion to Matt. 5: 18!

However, it is important to realize that Rutherford and some other divines differed with Gillespie in their terminology. This has given the appearance of conflict, when in reality they were in substantial agreement. This difference in terminology is fully recognized by both Edwards and Assembly member William Gouge, as we will see later in this critique. It reflects the fact that the puritans divided the judicial law into two separate categories.

Gillespie used the term judicial law in a sense which recognized that only that which was particular to Israel has expired and that which upholds the moral law still remains.  This can be seen from our earlier quotation, “yet 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.”

Rutherford, on the other hand, frequently uses the term judicial law more narrowly to mean what was particular to Israel and not general to all nations. For example, the words “temporary” and “judicial” are used together about five times in his A Free DisputationAgainst pretended Liberty of Conscience. However, on at least one occasion, he makes essentially the same distinction as Gillespie:
Judiciall Laws may be judiciall and Mosaicall, and so not obligatory to us, according to the degree and quality of punishment, such as is Deut. 13. the destroying the City… yet that some punishment by the sword, be inflicted upon such a City, is of perpetuall obligation; because the Magistrate beares the sword to take vengeance on ill doers…”[4]
Judicial laws are by implication, “obligatory to us” but a qualification is needed for those Judicial laws which are purely “Mosaicall.” These laws are also of “perpetual obligation” but not in “the degree and quality of punishment.” No modern Theonomist would disagree.

Rutherford’s example of God’s command to destroy a city is a telling one. It is usually seen as particular to Israel and as having expired with the destruction of that nation. However, he recognizes the “morall equity”[5] of that law has “perpetual obligation.”

Except in the quotation above, he generally refers to judicial laws upholding the moral law not as judicial but as moral, which they indeed are. Some others among his contemporary divines did the same thing. This has lead to the mistaken claim occasionally made in our own day, that Rutherford and those who used his terminology had dismissed the judicial law and were not theonomic. However, the following extract demonstrates exactly how Rutherford applied the moral-judicial case laws:
“That which is morall, and cannot be determined by the wisdome and will of man, must be determined by the revealed will of God in his word; but the punishment of a seducing Prophet… is morall and cannot be determined by the wisdome and will of man: Ergo, such a punishing of a seducing Prophet, must be by therevealed will of God in his word. The Proposition is proved 1. Because God only, not Moses, nor any other law-giver under him, taketh on him to determine death to be the adulterer’s punishment, Levit. 20. 10. And the same he determineth to be the punishment of willful murther [murder], Exod. 21. 12. of smiting of the Father or Mother, v. 15. of Man-stealing, vers. 16. of Sorcery, Exod. 22. 18. of Bestiality. 19. Of sacrificing to a strange God, vers. 10. And upon the same reason, God only, not any mortal man, must determine the punishment due to such as seduce soules to eternal perdition…”[6]
So there we have it: for Rutherford, natural law and human deduction fail in such cases. Therefore the punishment must be determined from the “the revealed will of God in his word.” “God only, not Moses, nor any other law-giver under him” is the determiner of the punishment, at least where the death penalty is concerned.

Where exactly in the scriptures does Rutherford seek for God’s determinations? It is clear that he seeks for them in the moral-judicial case laws. Besides the case of a false, seducing prophet, he lists, giving chapter and verse in the judicial law: adultery, willful murder, smiting parents, man-stealing, sorcery, bestiality, and sacrificing to a strange God.

We can now see that even if Rutherford would, as a matter of terminology, restrict Matt. 5: 17 to the moral law, much of the judicial law would be included as upholding it, or as Edwards said, an “Appendix of it.” Even the law requiring the destruction of a city seduced into idolatry, though particular to Israel in most of its details, has moral equity which, to him, is of “perpetual obligation.” He would have no reason to exclude it from the scope of Matt. 5: 17.

There are a couple of instances claimed as evidence that Rutherford was not really theonomic. The first concerns Sabbath breaking and Rutherford’s contention that the death penalty no longer applies in this case. If he was a theonomist, it is argued, he would never see a judicial penalty as cancelled without warrant from the New Testament.

However, this is a misrepresentation because his position was that that the deathpenalty was originally required because Mosaic Sabbath observance was augmented by the ceremonial law. Now that the ceremonial law is no longer to be observed, neither are the death penalties associated with it.[7] Another Westminster divine, William Gouge held a similar view of the Jewish Sabbath.[8]

The other instance concerns Rutherford’s un-theonomic substitution of whipping in place of restitution for the crime of theft.[9] Given his usually consistent application of the“moral equity” of the law in other cases, this must be seen as an inconsistency, a miscalculation of the requirements of “moral equity.”

Whipping instead of restitution fails to provide morally equitable treatment for the victim of the crime. Only with adequate restitution, entirely at the thief’s expense, are the victim and society treated fairly. Remember also that single restitution alone does nothing to punish the thief. Simply being made to return stolen goods is neither punishment nor deterrent. In merely returning the goods the thief suffers no net loss, and he has had time to benefit from their use or sell them, potentially at a profit, even after their return in kind. Ames takes a much more biblical position than Rutherford.[10]

(posts in this series: part 1, part 2,  part 3, part 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] This is a remarkable claim by Winzer in the light of this statement in Jus Divinum: “We answer, the Laws of the Jewish church, whether Ceremonial or Judicial, so far are in force, even at this day, as they were grounded upon common equity, the principles of reason and nature, and were serving to the maintenance of the Moral Law.” Confessional Presbyterian, 5: 46. It also compares well with Bahnsen’s view of the ceremonial law.

[2] Anyone who thinks the Westminster divines restricted Matt. 5: 17 to the moral law should consider that they included the judicial as part and parcel of it in their section Of Particular Congregations in The Form of Church Government and referenced Deut. 15: 7, 11. See Daniel F. N. Ritchie, The Law is Good, A Defence of Judicial Calvinism (Reformed Worldview Books, 2010), 136-138.

[3] Confessional Presbyterian, 5: 69.

[4] Samuel Rutherford, A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience (London: Printed by R. I. For Andrew Crook, 1649), 298. It should interest the reader that pages 310 to 333 of this book are headed: Judicial Laws in their morality oblige Christians.
[5] Ibid., 206. The equity of the law can be described as moral, as we see here in Rutherford, as
general as in the WCF 19.4, or as common. The label moral stresses that, judicial or otherwise, it is ultimately the equity of the moral law. General stresses the universal nature of the equity as opposed to something that is particular to Israel alone. Similarly, common stresses that it is common to all nations.

[6] Ibid., 309.
[7] Sinclair Ferguson appears to be the source of this error. It is well refuted in Martin A. Foulner, Theonomy and the Westminster Confession (Marpet Press, 1997), 21n.

[8] “He that gathered sticks on the Sabbath day and was stoned. Numb. xv. 32, &c., offended against the ceremonial law; for howsoever the Sabbath be a part of the moral law, yet the strictness of not kindling the fire thereon, Exod. xxxv. 3, against which that man transgressed, was a part of the ceremonial law.” William Gouge, A Commentary on the whole Epistle to the Hebrews, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1867), 2: 347.

[9] Rutherford, Free Disputation, 299.

[10] Ames, 117ff, 264-265.

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