Monday, January 10, 2011

The Westminster Confession and Judicial Law: The Anti-Theonomic Misrepresentations of Matthew Winzer: Part 3 (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.

William Gouge,  Westminster divine and
theonomist: "Their rule must be God's law,
and they ought to command nothing but
what is according to that law." William
Gouge, A Commentary on the whole
Epistle to the Hebrews, 3 vols.
(Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1867),
2: 107.
We can now consider Winzer’s other quotations which are also
purported to show that the divines “restrict the referent [of Matt. 5: 17] to the moral law.” He quotes Assembly member, John Ley’s exposition of Matt. 5: 17 thus:
“they hearing the law otherwise expounded than their teachers used to do, verse21, 22, might think that Christ did abrogate the moral Law, and bring in a new one: he warns them before hand, not to think so; ... the moral Law stands still in force.”[1]
However, Winzer is totally wrong and misleading because hidden in the ellipsis of his quotation, are these very words, “all was fulfilled in the Messias exhibited, with all the ceremonies thereof prefigured…” Ley clearly includes the ceremonial law as a referent of Matt. 5: 17. A little later in his exposition of the same verse, Ley continues by explaining his understanding of “but to fulfil”:
“Both by instruction, observation, and full satisfaction. Rom. 3. 31 & 8. 3. others take it of the fulfilling the ceremonies, types and predictions of the Messias in his own person, which he likewise did.”
Interestingly, at the end of Ley’s exposition of Matthew some omissions from previous editions are listed in the third edition: “to destroy the law,” is interpreted as “to overthrow; as here by abrogating, repealing or rendring it no longer binding” and also “to dissolve.” These are things, our Lord came not to do. Ley, therefore, like Calvin before him, does not see the ceremonial law as abrogated except in Calvin’s and the WCF sense that it was “only the use of them that was abolished.”

According to Ley “the moral Law stands still in force.” Winzer fails to recognize that enforcement is judicial. If it remains in force, then it is judicially enforced by the moral-judicial law. God himself will enforce it and when he calls for penalties, he obliges the civil magistrate to enforce it also. This is a principle our Lord makes clear in the remainder of Matt. 5.

As with Rutherford, Ley’s not mentioning the judicial law in his comments on Matt. 5: 17 does not mean that he excludes it. As explained, his words “the moral Law stands still in force” imply enforcement, which makes it appear that he includes the moral-judicial law as having and upholding “moral equity” in much the same way as Rutherford.

Let us now examine Winzer’s three remaining quotations which he alleges indicate a restrictionist view of Matt. 5: 17. They are taken from Westminster divines, John Lightfoot and Anthony Burgess.
“When the Ceremonial and Judicial Law have thus brought us to Christ, we may shake hands with them and farewell, but for the Moral, as it helps to bring us thither, so must it help to keep us there. For Christ came not to disannul this Law, but to fulfil it.”[2] (Lightfoot)
“When our Saviour, Mat. 5, gave those severall precepts, he did not adde them as new unto the Morall Law, but did vindicate that from the corrupt glosses and interpretations of the Pharisees.”[3] (Burgess)
“Mat. 5, he denied that he came to dissolve the Law.... Now it may be easily proved, that the Ceremoniall, and Judiciall lawes they are abrogated by expresse repeale.... We cannot say, in any good sense, that the Morall Law is abrogated at all.”[4] (Burgess)
Lightfoot, as the context and the quotation show, is speaking of salvation in Christ and the place of the moral law in the believer’s life. He is saying that the ceremonial and judicial laws have been instrumental in bringing the believer to Christ and that part of their work is finished. The moral law still continues as believers persevere in the faith.  Consistent with the moral law helping “to keep us there” in Christ, he includes in a separate passage, the broad details of Christian worship in the moral law.[5] Rather than restricting the referent of Matt. 5: 17, he seems to be affirming that Christ fulfils the demands of every division of the law in the accomplishment and application of our redemption.

Given the limited context, and only a brief allusion to Matt. 5: 17, Winzer’s quotation does not provide a reliable indicator of how Lightfoot would interpret the verse in a more general context. However, when dealing with it at length in his Horae Hebraicae et Talmudicae, he certainly does not limit its referent in any way.[6]

Even so, it would not have been entirely surprising if Lightfoot had turned out to be a restrictionist. It would simply suggest that, as an Erastian, he had been more influenced by John Whitgift than by Thomas Cartwright.[7]

The first of the two Burgess citations simply says of Matt. 5 that our Lord added nothing new to the moral law but rather vindicated it from “corrupt glosses and interpretations.” There is no indication of restrictionism here.

The second citation says of the ceremonial and judicial laws that “they are abrogated by expresse repeale”[8] and therefore it is essential to know the exact sense in which he is using the term judicial law. If Burgess is using the term in its wider sense for the whole of the judicial law, then he is obviously a restrictionist. But if, like Rutherford, he is using it purely for the strictly Jewish content of the judicial law, then he is not setting a restriction as far as the generality of the judicial law is concerned. He is simply subsuming it within the moral law.[9]

Burgess devotes three consecutive lectures (28 - 30) in Vindiciae Legis to Matt. 5.[10] His stated purpose is “to set forth the dignity of the Morall Law.”[11] In them he makes several appeals to the judicial law.[12] In one such reference, he deals with the Lex Talionis, which he sees as a law against private revenge, and never intended to be taken in a literal sense.[13] We would therefore be assuming inconsistency on the part of Burgess if we assumed he intended the wholesale abrogation of the entire judicial law.

As with Rutherford, the problem is one of correctly interpreting terminology. The term judicial law was used by the Westminster divines in more than one sense. It would seem that this difference was well understood at the time. A great deal more friction and contention might have been expected in the debates if it were not so.

Thomas Edwards reports a basic “distinction” made by divines [14] between two categories of judicial law: (1.) “judiciall lawes properly so called… which had a singular respect to the people of the Jewes” and (2.) “those lawes which were wont to be reckoned among the judicials, and yet had no singular respect or relation to the condition of the Jewes more than to other people,” he adds, “all those are of morall natural right common to all people…”[15] Thus there are two different senses in which a divine might use the term “judicial law.” Usually, when it has no qualifier such as “of common equity,” it refers to the Jewish laws.

William Gouge makes the same distinction and says of the latter kind, “There were… branches of the judicial law which rested upon common equity and were means of keeping the moral law.” For Gouge, those judicial laws not specifically Jewish uphold the moral law. They may be adopted by other nations as “good directions to order even Christian polities,” or other laws may be written which are consistent with “equity and piety.”[16]

Gouge is not speaking of equity in the abstract. He has just mentioned the “common equity” of the judicial law and, elsewhere in the same commentary he states, “God’s laws are the rule of righteousness; from them all laws take their equities.”[17] Of those whom God has placed in power he says, “Their rule must be God’s law, and they ought to command nothing but what is according to that law.”[18]

Assembly member Samuel Bolton also sees the judicial law as an appendix to the Decalogue (second table) and distinguishes two separate “parts.” One has ceased, the other is “moral” and perpetual.”
“As for the judicial law, which was an appendix to the second table… That part of the judicial law which was typical of Christ’s government has ceased, but that part which is of common and general equity remains still in force. It is a common maxim: those judgments which are common and natural are moral and perpetual.”[19]

Confusion can be avoided by carefully discerning which one of Edwards’ two senses a divine is using for the term, judicial law. We have seen that Gillespie uses it in the latter sense and Rutherford uses it mostly in the former, more limited sense. Winzer has more work to do if he wishes to prove Ley, Lightfoot or Burgess were restrictionists as far as Edwards’ latter sense of the judicial law is concerned.

Even if any or all of these three divines believed in the total abrogation of the judicial law, in both senses of the term, it would only mean that theirs was a minority opinion in the Westminster Assembly and placed them outside of what Edwards called “the generality of Orthodox Divines.” WCF 19.4 makes it clear that the majority affirmed the general equity of the judicial law to be of continuing obligation. It is general, i.e. universal, binding on all nations, and not just particular to Israel alone. That minority, if it even existed, must have been very small, or too far out of the mainstream, because no attempt to accommodate it appears in the final wording of the Confession.

(We can note here that Winzer, in the next section of his article, attempts to downplay and virtually nullify the meaning and intent of WCF 19.4. This will be dealt with separately when we come to consider that section.)

(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] John Ley, “Annotations on the Gospel according to S. Matthew,” Annotations Upon all the Books of the Old and New Testament, 3rd ed., 2 vols. (London: Printed by Evan Tyler, 1657) 2: n.p.
[2] John Lightfoot, The Whole Works of the Rev. John Lightfoot D.D. ed. John R. Pitman, 13 vols. (London: Printed by J. F. Dove, 1822), 4: 82.
[3] Anthony Burgess, Vindiciae Legis: or, 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), 152.
[4] Ibid., 211, 212.
[5] Lightfoot, 6: 264. “[H]e perpetuated the worship of the synagogue, reading the Scriptures, praying, preaching, and singing of psalms, &c. transplanted them into the Christian church as purely moral.”
[6] Lightfoot, 11: 97. On Matt. 5: 17, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law… III. He meets with this prejudice here and so onwards by many arguments, as namely, 1. That he abolished not the law when he abolished [Pharisaically obtruded] traditions; for therefore he came that he might fulfil the law. 2. That he asserts, that ‘not one iota shall perish from the law.’ 3. That he brought in an observation of the law much more pure and excellent than the Pharisaical observation of it was: which he confirms even to the end of the chapter, explaining the law according to its genuine and spiritual sense.”
[7] See discussion in John Whitgift, The Works of John Whitgift, D.D. 3 vols. (Cambridge: The Parker Society, 1851), 1: 270-278.
[8] This would seem to be an overstatement because we nowhere read in Scripture of the repeal of even the strictly Jewish aspects of the judicial law. The expiry was only final when Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70, after the canon of Scripture was completed. Some would assign a later date to the book of Revelation.
[9] It is interesting to see just how broadly Burgess sees the scope and administration of the moral law. His next sentence following the first of the two citations is: “Indeed it may seem hard to say that Christ, and justifying faith, & the doctrine of the Trinity, is included in this promulgation of the Law; but it is to be proved, that all these were then comprehended in the administration of it, though more obscurely.”
[10] The 3 lectures are all headed “Matth. 5. 21, 22.” All are sub headed “Ye have heard it hath been said by them of old, &c.” (one has an extra clause). In these lectures Burgess deals with some remaining verses of Matt. 5 and other passages.
[11] Burgess, 184.
[12] Simply listing passages from the Pentateuch as Burgess references them, we have: Num. 35: 30, Lev. 19, Ex. 23: 4, Deut. 6, Ex. 21: 23, Deut. 19: 19, Gen. 9: 6, Lev. 19: 16 (he means 19: 18), and Num. 31: 3.
[13] Ibid., 188.
[14] Two such divines would have been Edwards’ predecessors, William Perkins and William Ames. He is essentially quoting Ames, 109. Perkins wrote: “Judicial lawes of Moses according to the substance and scope thereof must be distinguished… they are of two sorts. Some of them are lawes of particular [to the Jews] equity, some of common [to all nations] equity.” William Perkins, A Discourse of Conscience (Cambridge: John Legate, 1596), 17.
[15] Edwards, 77, 78.
[16] Gouge, 2: 123, “Besides the ceremonial law, the Jews had a judicial law, proper and peculiar to that polity. This law concerned especially their civil estate. Many branches of that law appertained to the Jewish priesthood; as, the particular laws about the cities of refuge, whither such as slew any unawares fled, and there abode till the death of the high priest. Num. xxxv. 25. And laws about lepers, which the priest was to judge. Lev. xiv. 3. And sundry other cases which the priest was to judge of, Deut. xvii. 9. So also the laws of distinguishing tribes. Num. xxxvi. 7; of reserving inheritances to special tribes and families, of selling them to the next of kin, Ruth iv. 4; of raising seed to a brother that died without issue. Gen. xxxviii. 8, 9; of all manner of freedoms at the year of jubilee, Lev. xxv. 13, &c.  
There were other branches of the judicial law which rested upon common equity and were means of keeping the moral law: as putting to death idolaters and such as enticed others thereunto; and witches, and willful murderers, and other notorious malefactors. So likewise laws against incest and incestuous marriages; laws of reverencing and obeying superiors and governors; and of dealing justly in borrowing, restoring, buying, selling, and all manner of contracts, Exod. xxii. 20; Deut. xiii. 9; Exod. xx. 18; Num. xxxv. 30; Lev. xx. 11, &c., xix. 32, 35.
The former sort were abolished together with the priesthood. The latter remain as good directions to order even Christian polities accordingly… [Liberty] God affordeth to others to have laws most agreeable to their own country, so as they be not contrary to equity and piety.”
[17] Ibid., 2: 348. Gouge previously cites a passage and verses from the judicial law: Lev. 20: 1, etc., 24: 23, Num. 15: 36, Deut. 13: 5, 11, as the basis for this and other statements.
[18] Ibid., 2: 107. Gouge is speaking of law which is contained in “particular commandments which here and there are to be found in God’s word.” Clearly, he does not limit this to the Decalogue.
[19] Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), 56.

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