Thursday, April 9, 2015

Matthew 5:17 as a Basis for Theonomy in History

The understanding of Mathew 5:17 as a basis for theonomy is nothing new. We find it
in the Reformation, post-Reformation, and all the way back in Alfred the Great's
theonomic code written in around 890 -- the Code of Alfred, England's first
written law code, which would influence English Common Law.

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-19)

Modern theonomy is often defended on the basis of Matthew 5:17 and subsequent verses, which are believed to affirm the abiding validity of the moral law, including the moral equity of the judicial laws of Moses. (Matthew 5:17 in particular says: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.")

However, some opponents of theonomy may hold that this is a new understanding of such verses—that they were never understood in this way before in Christian history; at the most, such opponents might hold that the historical understanding simply had in view the moral law divorced from the moral equity of the judicial law. 

(Although they may affirm that it historically allows for the moral equity of the judicial law, but misunderstand what that actually entails; and at the same time, erroneously hold that modern theonomy's view of the judicial law goes beyond the concept of moral equity. For a refutation of this understanding, click here.) 

But it is in fact the case that, in regards to the judicial law, Matthew 5:17 has been understood by some in Christian history as modern theonomists understand it. 

And not by unimportant people—but by one of the greatest Christian rulers in history, Alfred the Great; as well as some of the greatest theologians in history, including John Knox, George Gillespie, and John Cottonand very likely Ulrich Zwingli

Not only this, but Matthew 5:17 provided a theonomic basis for the Code of Alfred, England's first written legal code, which would influence English Common Law; as well as a theonomic basis for the general equity of the judicial laws of Moses in the Westminster Confession of Faith—one of the greatest, and most influential, confessions of all time. 

Historical quotes are included below.

Alfred the Great (849-899), the First King of England, Defeated the Viking Invaders of England, Author of England's First Written Legal Code

In around 890 Alfred the Great implemented the Code of Alfred, England's first written legal code, which would influence English Common Law. Much of this code is based on the judicial law of the Old Testament. 

In providing a theonomic basis for the Code, Alfred writes the following, where he at least has in mind Matthew 5:17:
These are judgments which Almighty God Himself spoke to Moses and commanded him to keep. Now, since the Lord's only begotten Son our God and healing Christ has come to Middle Earth — He said that He did not come to break nor to forbid these commandments but to approve them well, and to teach them with all mildheartedness and lowlymindedness.[1]
On this law code, as well as Alfred's use of Matthew 5:17, Francis Nigel Lee writes:
Alfred's most important work was certainly his Law Code. It is preceded by a long introduction. This contains translations not only of the Ten Commandments, but also of many other passages from the book of Exodus. It is followed by an excerpt from Christ's Sermon on the Mount and by a brief account of apostolic history (with quotations from the apostolic book of Acts). There, Alfred stresses the "jots and tittles" alias the minutiae of God's Law and His Prophets (Matthew 5:17f); the "Golden Rule" (Matthew 7:12); and the God-inspired decision of the First General Assembly of the Christian Church — in order to teach God's Law and His Prophets (Amos 9:11f) as well as His Gospel also in the congregations of Christ (Acts 15:15-29 & 16:4f). ...
Alfred declares that when Christ came to the Mediterranean World (or 'Middle Earth'), He Himself did "approve" the "judgments" alias the judicial laws. Very far from ever having abrogated or destroyed them — He Himself therefore still requires that at least their 'general equity' be observed. 
This was clearly also Alfred's own understanding and legislative endeavour. He does, of course, certainly distinguish between the Old-Israelitic format of the judicial laws of Moses on the one hand — and the general equity thereof, on the other. This can be seen by King Alfred's own adaptation of those Old-Israelitic case laws to meet the different conditions of early-mediaeval Anglo-Saxon Britain. Compare, for example, Alfred's own laws 11 & 27 & 44-47. Yet, in so adapting, King Alfred clearly preserves and enforces within English Common Law the general equity of those Old-Israelitic judicial laws.[2]
Here we list the Code's capital sanctions, along with the Scriptures they are based on (those we added are in brackets; the others are added by Francis Nigel Lee in his scholarly work King Alfred the Great and our Common Law, our source here):
Sacrificing to false gods:
"Also let him who offers sacrifices to the gods — except to God alone — suffer death!" [Exodus 18:20]
"Don't let women live who are wont to receive enchanters and conjurers and witches!" See: Exodus 22:18.
Striking one's parents:                                           
"He who smites his father or his mother — shall suffer death!" [Exodus 21:15]
"He who steals a Freeman and sells him, and it be proved against him, so that he cannot clear himself — let him suffer death!" [Exodus 21:16]                      
"Let him who has intercourse with cattle, suffer death!" See: Exodus 22:19. 
"The man who intentionally slays another man — let him suffer death! He, however, who slay him out of necessity or unwillingly or involuntarily — as when God may have sent him into his power, and when he had not lain in wait for him — he is worthy of his living and lawful fine, if he [the involuntary manslaughterer] seeks asylum. But if any one presumptuously and wilfully slays his neighbour through guile — drag him from My altar, so that he should suffer death!" See: Numbers 35:11-33, Genesis 9:5-6.
Murdering one's servant:
"He who smites his own bondservant or bondswoman — if he or she does not die the same day but still lives for two or three nights — he is not at all so guilty [of death]: for it was his own chattel. However, if he or she die the same day — put the guilt upon him [the overlord]!" See: Exodus 21:20-21.
Murdering a thief:
"If a thief breaks into a man's house at night, and he be slain there — he [the slayer] is not guilty of manslaughter! If he does this after sun-rise, he is guilty of manslaughter; and he himself shall then die — unless he slew out of necessity! If he [the thief] be caught red-handed with what he previously stole — let him pay twofold for it!" See: Exodus 22:2-4.  
Killing a pregnant woman:
"If anyone, while fighting, hurt a pregnant woman — let him pay a fine for the hurt, as the evaluators determine! If she die — let him pay soul with soul!" See: Exodus 21:22-23.

For more details of the Code, see King Alfred the Great and our Common Law, pp. 9-14.


[1] Cited in Francis Nigel Lee, King Alfred the Great and our Common Law (Brisbane, Australia: Queensland Presbyterian Theological Seminary, 2000), 7.
[2] Ibid., 6, 7.
[3] Cited in Ibid., 10-12.

photo credit for Alfred the Great statue:

Statue of King Alfred the Great, Wantage, Oxfordshire
© Philip Jelley Philipjelley / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) (license)
Retrieved April 7, 2015 from,_Wantage,_Oxfordshire.jpg

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), Founder of Swiss Protestantism, "the First Reformed Theologian"

According to  V. Norskov Olsen,
Zwingli states his concept of Christ's relationship to the judicial laws of Moses when he writes: "Christ brought nothing new into the law of the fathers, but He made fresh the old commandments, and did away with human traditions."[1]
Here Zwingli seems likely to be appealing to the Sermon on the Mount, including Matthew 5:17 and later verses (where Christ affirms the abiding validity of God's law and corrects the traditions of men who oppose it).

We also find in Zwingli's writings affirmations of particular judicial laws, and so he "was able to invoke the Mosaic penalties for adultery, witchcraft and offences against property."[2] He also supported the Mosaic law's death penalty for striking a parent.[3]


[1] V. Norskov Olsen, The New Testament Logia on Divorce, 65. 
[2] P. D. L. Avis, "Moses and the Magistrate: A Study in the Rise of Protestant Legalism," Journal of Ecclesiastical History, vol. 26, no. 2 (April 1975): 13. Retrieved June 13, 2014 from
[3] Ibid.

John Knox (1514-1572), Scottish Reformer, Founder of Scottish Presbyterianism 

John Knox held that all are bound to the same civil laws given to the Jews (at least those that were not particular to the Jewish nation). At least one reason he bases this on is Matthew 5:17, which is seen in his Appellation, where he writes this in defending the Bible's prohibition of idolatry: 
But if any think, that after the Gentiles were called from their vain conversation, and by embracing Christ Jesus were received into the number of Abraham's children, and so made one people with the Jews believing: if any think, I say, that then they were not bound to the same obedience, which God required of his people Israel, what time he confirmed his league and covenant with them; the same man appeareth to make Christ inferior to Moses, and contrarious to the law of his heavenly Father. For if the contempt or transgression of Moses' law was worthy of death, what should we judge the contempt of Christ's ordinance to be?—I mean after they be once received.—And if Christ be not come to dissolve, but to fulfill the law of his heavenly Father; shall the liberty of his gospel be an occasion that the especial glory of his father be trodden under foot, and regarded of no man? God forbid.[1]
Therefore, Knox calls the death penalty for idolatry "perpetual."[2] He also argues elsewhere that "the eternall God in his Parliament has pronounced death to be the punishment for adulterye and for blasphemye."[3] Regarding the latter, he says this in a piece rebuking those who opposed the execution of Servetus:
Ye will not easily admit that Servetus was convicted of blasphemy; for if so be, ye must be compelled to confess (except that ye will refuse God) that the sentence of death executed against him was not cruelty; neither yet that the judges who justly pronounced that sentence were murderers nor persecutors; but that this death was the execution of God's judgment, and they the true and faithful servants of God, who, when no other remedy was found, did take away iniquity from amongst them. That God hath appointed death by his law, without mercy, to be executed upon the blasphemers, is evident by that which is written, Leviticus 24.[4]  
In this same piece, Knox likewise refers to Matthew 5:17 in defending the abiding validity of the judicial laws of Moses:
Where ye ask, If these be the sheep which Christ sent forth in the midst of wolves, and if the sheep can persecute the wolves? And I demand for answer, Whether Moses was a sheep or a wolf, and whether that fearful slaughter executed upon idolaters, without respect of persons was not as great a persecution as the burning of Servetus and Joan of Kent? To me it appeareth greater. For to them was granted no place of repentance; no admonition was given unto them, but, without further delay or question, was the brother commanded to kill the brother; yea, the father not to spare the son [Lev. 23.] I think, verily, that if judgment should be referred unto you, that then should Moses and the tribe of Levi be judged wolves, sent to devour innocent sheep. But because we know what God hath allowed, we the less fear the judgment of man. If ye claim any privilege by the coming of the Lord Jesus, himself will answer, "that he is not come to break nor destroy the law of his heavenly Father."[5]


[1] "The Appellation of John Knox," in John Knox, The History of the Reformation of Religion in Scotland (Edinburgh: Blackie, Fullarton, & Co. and A. Fullarton and Co., 1831), 393. 
[2] David Laing, ed., Works of John Knox: Volume 2 (Edinburgh: 1864), 447. Cited in Martin A. Foulner, ed., Theonomy and the Westminster Confession: an annotated sourcebook (Edinburgh: Marpet Press, 1997), 47.
[3] Laing, Works of John Knox: Volume 2, 339, 340. Cited in Ibid., 46.
[4] John Knox, "The Execution of Servetus for Blasphemy, Heresy, & Obstinate Anabaptism, Defended," Retrieved July 2, 2014 from
[5] Ibid.

Johannes Piscator (1546-1625), Bible Commentator and Translator, Important Influence on Reformed Thought on the Judicial Laws

Piscator, unfortunately, later in life succumbed to the Arminian heresy, and also opposed the active obedience of Christ in justification. However, according to Adam Jonathan Brink, 
[I]n his views of the Mosaic Judicial Laws, Piscator represents a consistent train of Reformed thought on the subject, including the early developments of Bucer, Peter Martyr, Musculus, and Beza, and the later clarifications by men like Franciscus Junius and Immanuel Tremellius, whom he cites as influences on his thinking. Piscator, in turn, would profoundly affect men like Rutherford, Gillespie and other Covenanters and Puritans, and through them, the Westminster Confession of Faith.[1]
(In this piece we include statements by George Gillespie and Thomas Edwards that favorably mention Piscator when advocating Matthew 5:17, and/or 5:38 [which is in context of 5:17]).

Piscator affirms Matthew 5:17 as a basis for the abiding validity of the judicial laws of Moses; he also appeals to Matthew 5:38 (which is in context of 5:17) to affirm the same:
I take my second point from the words of our Lord to the disciples: Do not suppose that I have come to annul the Law or the Prophets; I came not to annul, but to fulfill. If Christ came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, he came likewise to fulfill the Judicial Laws of Moses. The reason being: because they are part of the Law, and because the Prophets also exhorted the judges and governors of the people of God to observe them. But if the first proposition is true, then therefore the latter is confirmed. 
Now, it is asked, in what sense it may be said that Christ has fulfilled the Judicials of Moses. There are only two methods by which he might have fulfilled the Judicials, namely, it may be said that they have been fulfilled either by doing what they command, or by teaching and exhorting others to do them. That first mode was not fitting for Christ's position, in that his calling from God was not as a judge, or governor of the state or civil matters. Whence, indeed, he refused to sentence the adulteress brought to him by the Scribes and Pharisees. And of his own accord, he rejected the man who entreated him to order his brother to divide the inheritance with him, saying, Listen, who ordained me as a judge or divider over you? Therefore, that leaves the latter mode, as we should say, Christ has fulfilled the penalties of the Judicial Laws of Moses by teaching others to observe them. 
As anyone may clearly see, he has vindicated one of the Judicials from the false interpretation of the Scribes; namely, the law concerning retaliation, and by teaching the same, he confirms that all of the Judicial Laws of Moses (which give orders concerning punishments), being understood in their natural sense, are to be observed by the judges of the people of God in the New Testament. [2] 
And so, as Piscator elsewhere states, "Judicial Laws of Moses should pertain to Christians"—specifically, "the very same which are concerned with punishments of moral offenses."[3]


Johannes Piscator, Disputations on the Judicial Laws of Moses, trans. Adam Jonathan Brink (Shenandoah Valley, VA: Pacioli Associates Trust, 2011), x.
[2] Ibid., 19-21.
[3] Ibid., 23.

Thomas Edwards (1599-1647), Influential Puritan Preacher and Writer

Thomas Edwards affirms the abiding validity of the judicial laws via Matthew 5:17, and further does so with Matthew 5:38, 39 (which is in context of 5:17):
The Judicial Law differs from the Decalogue, the Law of the ten Commandments, in this, that whereas the Decalogue comprehends in a few words all righteousness and equity, in all kind of duties to God and man, the Judicial explains only that part of righteousness and equity which stands in those things of which judgement are appointed; and therefore seeing the judicials prescribe the equity of judgement which is a part of the Decalogue we must be bound to that as we are to the rest of the Decalogue, viz. so far as they contain a general equity though we are not tied to the forms of the Mosaical polity; 
Now Christ saith, Matth. 5. 17. he came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it; which words are comprehensive of the Judicial Law as for the substance a part of the Moral Law, (the Judicial being indeed an Appendix and a more particular explication of that part of the Moral Law concerning matters of Justice and judgement) and therefore must be understood by Christ to be established. 
2. Though there be many pregnant proofs in the New Testament for abolishing the Ceremonial Law, yet we nowhere read in the New Testament of making void the Judicial Law concerning the punishing of sins against the Moral Law, in the number of which are Idolatry, Heresy, Blasphemy. Now these Judicial Laws being the Laws of God and by his revealed will once settled, they must needs so far forth remain as they appear not by his will to be repealed. 
They who hold the Magistrate under the Gospel is not bound to punish for such sins, must prove from the Scripture those Laws of God revoked and canceled, which none of the Patrons of Toleration have ever yet done. 3. The substance and equity of the Judicial Law remains in that Christ and his Apostles make use of, transfer and prove by some Judicial laws divers things under the New Testament. Christ makes use of a Judicial Law concerning punishment, Matth. 5. 38, 39An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a toothviz. that of poena talionisExod. 21. 24. and frees it from the false gloss and interpretation of the Pharisees, in which he teaches the Judicial Laws of Moses understood in their right sense are to be observed in the New Testament
For if Christ in that Sermon, of which this is a part would teach the Decalogue belonged to Christians, by his vindicating it from the false interpretations of the Scribes and Pharisees; then it follows he meant to teach the Judicial Laws of Moses concerning the punishment of Moral transgressions belonged to them also, because he vindicated also one of them, of which particular with the proof of the consequence the Reader may find more in Piscator's Appendix to Exodus
The Apostle Paul 1 Cor. 9. 9. 1 Tim. 5. 18. among other proofs brought by him from similitudes fetched from the common use of men, that the Minister of the Gospel ought to be maintained of the Churches charge, whereas they might object those were but humane reasons, he alleadgeth [alleges?] as the eternal Law of God one of the Iudicial Laws of Moses, which was, that a man should not muzzle the mouth of the Ox which treadeth out the corn: where 'tis manifest he doubteth not to bind the conscience of the Churches unto the equity of that Law which was judicial ... [1]


[1] Thomas Edwards, The casting down of the last and strongest hold of Satan (London: Printed by T.R. and E.M. for George Calvert, 1647) (Publication info: Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Library, 2009 March). Retrieved April 6, 2015 from;view=fulltext. We have modernized the spelling.

George Gillespie (1613-1648), Scottish Presbyterian, Westminster divine

While defending the abiding validity of the general equity of the judicial laws of Moses, Westminster divine George Gillespie favorably raises arguments by Piscator, including from Matthew 5:17, as well as 5:38 (which is in context of Matthew 5:17):
It will be asked, “But how does it appear that these or any other judicial laws of Moses do at all appertain to us, as rules to guide us in like cases?” I shall wish him who scruples this, to read Piscator’s appendix to his observations upon the 21-23 chapters of Exodus, 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. He answers by the common distinction, he is obliged to those things in the judicial law which are unchangeable, and common to all nations: but not to those things which are mutable, or proper to the Jewish Republic. But then he explains this distinction, that by things mutable, and proper to the Jews, he understands the emancipation of an Hebrew servant or handmaid in the seventh year, a man’s marrying his brother’s wife and raising up seed to his brother, the forgiving of debts at the Jubilee, marrying with one of the same tribe, and if there be any other like to these; also ceremonial trespasses, as touching a dead body, etc. But things immutable, and common to all nations, are the laws concerning moral trespass, sins against the moral law, as murder, adultery, theft, enticing away from God, blasphemy, striking of parents. 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. ...
(2.) 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. Now he could not fulfill the judicial law, except either by his practice, or by teaching others still to observe it; not by his own practice, for he would not condemn the adulteress (Jn. 8:11), nor divide the inheritance (Luke 12:13-14). Therefore it must be by his doctrine for our observing it.
(3.) If Christ in his sermon (Matt. 5), would teach that the moral law belongs to us Christians, in so much as he vindicates it from the false glosses of the scribes and Pharisees; then he meant to hold forth the judicial law concerning moral trespasses as belonging unto us also; for he vindicates and interprets the judicial law, as well as the moral (Matt. 5:38), An eye for an eye, etc.[1] 

[1] George Gillespie, Wholesome Severity Reconciled with Christian Liberty (Naphtali Press, 1997). Retrieved March 26, 2015 from

Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), One of the Most Influential Confessions of all Time

Historically, judicial laws of general equity, or common equity, were understood as those judicial laws related to the moral law (e.g., punishments for violations of the moral law). (For more on this, click here.) These laws bind all men, in contrast to judicial laws of particular equity relevant for Jews only (e.g., family plots, location of cities of refuge). 

With this in mind, Chapter 19.4 of the Confession reads:
To them [the people of Israel] also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require.
The Confession provides Matthew 5:17 as a prooftext to justify judicial laws of general equity. 

And so, as far as the confession is concerned, judicial laws of general equity are mandatory for all nations. Note the words "obliging" and "require" in the statement, "not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require." This squares with Matthew 5:17, which teaches that the law is mandatory to all men: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."

The Matthew 5:17 prooftext in 19.4 is coupled with Matthew 5:38; apparently the Confession understands it in the same way as Thomas Edwards [quoted earlier]: that Christ "frees it from the false gloss and interpretation of the Pharisees, in which he teaches the Judicial Laws of Moses understood in their right sense are to be observed in the New Testament.") (See also our previous quotes by Johannes Piscator, as well as Westminster divine George Gillespie, on this text.) 

Chapter 23.3 of the Confession assumes that the general equity of the judicial law (as justified by Matthew 5:17 earlier in the confession) entails punishments for violations of the moral law. It says that the civil magistrate is "to take order that ... all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed ..."citing as supporting texts Leviticus 24:16 and Deuteronomy 13:5, 6, 12 (judicial laws for punishing blasphemy and seduction to idolatry, respectively). (Unfortunately, this was removed from the American version of the Confession.)

(For a thorough treatment of the meaning of WCF 19.4, read "Understanding the Westminster Confession of Faith, Section 19.4, on the Judicial Law and General Equity" by Vindiciae Legis.)

Similar wording to WCF 19.4 is used in the 1658 Savoy Declaration of Faith (the great Congregational confession) and the 1677/1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (the great Baptist confession)—both of which affirm the abiding validity of the general equity of the judicial law:
To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution, their general equity only being still of moral use. -- Savoy Declaration of Faith, 19.4
To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of moral use. -- London Baptist Confession, 19.4

John Cotton (1584-1652), Puritan Theologian, Author of the Theonomic "Abstract of the Laws of New England"

In his defense of theonomy against Roger Williams, titled 
The Bloody Tenant Washed and made White in the Bloud of the Lamb, John Cotton raises Matthew 5:17 to argue that the Christ did not come to destroy the Law of Moses—including the judicial laws:
For Christ came not to destroy the Law of Moses, Matthew 5:17. Neither the Moral Law: for [in] the sequel of that Chapter, he doth at large expound it, and establish it:
No, nor did he come to destroy the judicial Laws, such of them as are of Moral equity.[1] 
Similiarly, Cotton elsewhere states:
Though Christ abolished a National Church-State, and instead thereof set up a Congregational Church:  yet Christ never abolished, a National Civil State, nor the Judicial Laws of Moses, which were of Moral equity, but established them rather, in their place and order.[2]  
Cotton writes this about the difference between abrogated ceremonial laws and non-abrogated judicial laws of moral equity (giving examples of sanctions against blasphemy and apostate idolatry, both of which are violations of the moral law):
Ceremonial Laws were generally Typical: not so Moses his Judicials, especially those which had in them moral equity.  
It is Moral equity, that Blasphemers, and Apostate Idolaters, seducing others to Idolatry, should be put to death, Leviticus 24:15, Deuteronomy 13:5.[3]


[1] John Cotton, The Bloudy Tenant Washed and made White in the Bloud of the Lamb (England: Quinta Press, 2009), 192.
[2] Ibid., 139.
[3] Ibid., 60. 

James R. Willson (1780-1853), Covenanter Pastor and Theologian

For Willson, Matthew 5:17-19 affirms the whole moral code of the Old Testament:
There were also laws peculiar to the state of the Jewish commonwealth—commonly called judicial, which are no longer of force, except as to their spirit and import. Such are the provisions respecting the reaping the corners of their fields, the gleaning of the vintage and of the harvest, that were to be left for the poor of the land. These laws instruct in the duty of making benevolent provision for the destitute; but the prescribed manner of doing so, is no longer obligatory. All the rest remain in their full vigor. Hence Christ says:—"Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these lest commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach the, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." [Matthew 5:17-19]. This is a solemn ratification of the whole moral code of the Old Testament, by the Lord Jesus Christ himself.[1]
The moral code of the Old Testament, for Willson, includes Old Testament laws that punish violations of the moral law; for he writes in the same piece:
There are laws enacted and revealed in the Bible, which civil rulers only can execute. These are all the penalties of the law, in which indemnity for wrong is made by property, and in all corporeal punishment. Every one knows that the Old Testament abounds with such penalties. Such are all the laws respecting theft, damage, gross idolatry, blasphemy, the desecration of the Sabbath, rape, incest, adultery, assaults and batteries, man-slaughters, and murders. That these penalties remain, under the New Testament, in full force, is evident; for they were neither ceremonial nor judicial; they were no better adapted to Israel than to other nations; they do not expire by their own limitation; the crimes against which they were enacted are as aggravated now and as mischievous to society, as of old, and men are now as prone to commit them, as they were in Judea. In brief, all the reasons for enacting these penalties do still exist in their full force. If they were wise, just and wholesome, when enacted, they are now; and if society derived advantage from the, before the advent of Messiah, they will be useful now for the advancement of the public weal.[2] 
(Note here that he says that the Old Testament penalties for violations of the moral law are not judicial; here, I believe he is referring to judicial laws of particular equity to Israel—not judicial laws of common equity for all nations. Note that in the first quote he states: "There were also laws peculiar to the state of the Jewish commonwealth—commonly called judicial." For more on the historical twofold understanding of the judical law, see "Understanding the Westminster Confession of Faith, Section 19.4, on the Judicial Law and General Equity" by Vindiciae Legis.)


[1] James R. Willson, The written law, or the Law of God Revealed in the Scriptures, by Christ as Mediator; The Rule of Duty to Christian Nations to Civil Institutions (Newburgh: NY: J.D. Spalding, 1838). Retrieved April 6, 2015 from    
[2] Ibid.

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