Thursday, March 6, 2014

Rulers Must Adopt the Judicial Law of Moses & Defend God's Honor (Nathaniel Morton)

Pilgrims thanking God for their safe arrival in Plymouth, MA. According to
the Pilgrim Nathaniel Morton, they would go on to work to frame their laws
on the Old Testament judicial laws of moral equity.

Nathaniel Morton (1616-1685), Pilgrim Separatist and Secretary of Plymouth Colony, wrote in 1658 about the duties of civil governments to base their constitutions on the judicial law of Moses and to defend God's honor -- which Plymouth Colony had sought to do in the framing of its own laws:

To our beloved Brethren and Neighbors the Inhabitants of the Jurisdiction of New Plymouth the Governor: Assistants and Deputies Assembled at the general Court of that Jurisdiction held at the town of Plymouth the 29th of September 1658, wisheth Grace and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

It was the great privilege of Israel of old and so was acknowledged by them Nehemiah the 9th and 13. that God gave them right Judgments and true Laws; for God being the God of order and not of confusion hath Commanded in his word and put man into a Capacity in some measure to observe and be guided by good and wholesome laws; which are so far good and wholesome as by how much they are derived from and agreeable to the Ancient platform of God's law; for although sundry particulars in the Judicial law which was of old Enjoined to the Jews did more especially (at least in some circumstances) befit their pedagogy;

yet are they for the main so exemplary being grounded on principles of moral equity as that all men Christians especially ought always to have an eye thereunto in the framing of their political Constitutions; and although several of the heathen Nations who were Ignorant of the true God and of his law have been famous in their times for the enacting and execution of such laws as have proved profitable for the Government of their Commonwealths in the times wherein they lived Notwithstanding their excellency appeared so far as they were founded upon grounds of moral equity which hath its original from the Law of God; 

And accordingly we who have been actors in the framing of this Small body of laws together with other useful Instruments who are gone to their rest; can safely say both for our selves and them that we have had an eye principally and primarily unto the aforesaid platform; and secondarily unto the Right Improvement of the liberties granted unto us by our Superiors the State of England at the first beginning of this infant plantation which was to enact such laws as should most befit a State in the nonage thereof; 

not rejecting or omitting to observe such of the laws of our Native Country as would conduce unto the good and growth of so weak a beginning as ours in this wilderness; as any Impartial eye Not forestalled with prejudice may easily discern in the pusall [perusal?] of this small book of the laws of our Colony; The premises duly considered might work every conscientious spirit to faithful obedience, And although wee hold and do affirm that both Courts of Justice and magistrates who are the ministers of the law are essentially Civil; 

Notwithstanding we conceive that as the magistrate hath his power from God so undoubtedly he is to Improve it for the honor of God and that in the upholding of his Worship and service and against the contrary with due respect also to be had unto those that are really conscientious though differing and descenting in some smaller matters; but if any really or in pretense of conscience shall profess that which eminently tendeth to the Invndation [Invalidation?] of Civil State and violation of Natural bonds or the overthrow of the churches of God or his worship that here prudence is to be Improved in the enacting and execution of laws; It hath been our Endeavor in the framing of our laws that nothing should be found amongst them but what will fall under the same particulars we have likewise reduced them to such order as they may most conduce to our vtillitie [vitality? utility?] and profit; 

possibly it may be that weakens may appear in the composure of sundry of them for want of such plenty of able Instruments as others are furnished withal; however let this suffice the gentle Reader that our ends are; to the utmost of our power in these our Endeavors to promote the common good both of Church and State both at present and for future; and therefore so far as we have aimed at the glory of God and common good and acted according to God, be not found a Resister but obedient lest thereby thou resist the ordinance of God and so Incur the displeasure of God unto damnation; Romans 13: 2.

By order of the General Court
Nathaniel Morton[1]


[1] David Pulsifer, ed., Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England (Boston, MA: William White, 1861), 72, 73. We have modernized the text.

photo credits:
"Architect of the Capitol"


Harbarzillai said...

"It hath been our Endeavor in the framing of our laws that ... they may most conduce to our vtillitie [vitality?] and profit;"

Could "vtillitie" be "utility"?

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Harbarzillai, you may be right, so I proposed "utility" as another possibility. That old English is maddening ...