Friday, February 13, 2015

Defense of Theonomy: Part 1: The Civil Ruler's Need for Direction

Without the Old Testament civil laws, civil rulers are left largely in the dark as to how to rule.

by Steve C. Halbrook

Part 2: The Perfection of the Law

All civil rulers are to submit to God in all matters, since God rules over all. The sovereign rule of King Jesus extends throughout all of heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18b).  He is “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15b; cf. Eph. 1:20-22). 

Naturally, submitting to God’s rule entails obedience to God’s law. King Jesus says, Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Lk. 6:46). 

Rulers, then, are ministers of God (Romans 13:4) who are commanded to "Serve the LORD" (Psalm 2:11a) by enforcing His justice: "He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God" (2 Samuel 23:3b, KJV; see also Proverbs 8:15, 16). 

This leaves us with the question: by what standard can rulers determine how to rule justly? God reveals Himself to man via Scripture (e.g., 2 Timothy 3:16, 17) and natural revelation (Romans 1, 2). But if natural revelation provides any assistance, it is still not perspicuous enough to provide a blueprint for determining what sins should be crimes, how those crimes should be punished, and proper court procedures for determining innocence or guilt. 

On the other hand, this blueprint is found in Scriptureespecially in the Old Testament civil laws. However, once we say that the Old Testament civil laws (minus those particular to Israel)[1] do not apply today—even allowing for a couple exceptions (e.g., punishing murderers)then rulers have no ethical blueprint.

Thomas Houston
And if rulers lack an ethical blueprint, then rulers are trapped in the untenable position of being asked to serve God, while at the same time being largely in the dark about how to do so. The Covenanter Thomas Houston touches on this dilemmaand recommends the judicial law of Moses as the only solution:
The moral law defines and declares the crime, but says nothing of the punishment. The Judicial law is the fence that God himself set round the precepts of the Decalogue, which are of universal obligation. It is the penal code of heaven – the rule by which alone, as far as human society is concerned we can measure the magnitude of the crime committed, and the proper award of punishment which it merits. Consider it entirely abrogated, and then, as far as relates to the Civil Magistrate, the sanction of the Decalogue is removed. He has a sword still, but he is without directions how he may use it.
Like a mariner without a compass, he is afloat on a sea of uncertainties, ready at every moment to be swallowed up by the tempestuous billows, or to be dashed to pieces on the rocks and quicksands that threaten his destruction. But the Christian Magistrate is not appointed God’s minister, and left thus without directions in performing the functions of his arduous office. His duty is clearly and minutely declared in the words of Him who is without variableness and shadow of turning, and whose law, like himself, is unchangeable. With this divine instrument in his hand, he has nothing to fear. Let him apply it faithfully, and leave the consequences with God. Then will his administration be crowned with success, and God’s glory and man’s good will be extensively promoted.[2] 
In short: since God has absolute authority over rulers, rulers owe God obedience in all things. And if rulers are going to obey God in all things, they need a comprehensive code of civil laws authored by God Himself. This is found only in Scripture, especially in the judicial law of Moses.


[1] Westminster divine William Gouge provides distinctions between laws particular to Israel and laws common to all nations. On laws particular to Israel, he writes: 
Many branches… appertained to the Jewish priesthood; as, the particular laws about the cities of refuge... Num. xxxv. 25. And laws about lepers… Lev. xiv. 3. And sundry other cases which the priest was to judge of, Deut. xvii. 9. So also… 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… the year of jubilee, Lev. xxv. 13, &c. 
William Gouge, A Commentary on the whole Epistle to the Hebrews, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1866/67), 2:123. Cited in Vindiciae Legis, Understanding the WestminsterConfession of Faith, Section 19.4, on the Judicial Law and General Equity (Second Edition), f.n. 8.
 On laws of common equity, he writes:
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 wilful 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, 35.4. Ibid., 11, 12.
[2] Thomas Houston, The Christian Magistrate: a Discourse, with an Appendix (Belfast: Stuart & Gregg, n.d.), 90, 91.


Anonymous said...

Steven, thank you for this.

A return to the Direction set out by our LORD in scripture Is much needed throughout the globe, and certainly among our two primary political parties here in the US, which are founded upon so-called "enlightenment" principles.

BTW, your book is an "book" but doesn't allow for easy viewer on a mobile device. Any plans to change to a format that works better?

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Thanks for the suggestion. I have thought about putting the book on another format (e.g., kindle), but there is the challenge of the time it takes to change the book's format. Maybe in time ... do you recommend any format for a mobile device?

Anonymous said...

Steve, Kindle is a strong universal format. People can access it either via kindle or using a kindle app on another device (eg, iPad).

Thanks for your updates to the site.