Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Thomas Shepard on Sola Scriptura & Civil Government, Sabbath Breaking, & More

Thomas Shepard (1605-1649) was an important Puritan writer and pastor who participated in the founding of Harvard University and worked to evangelize the Indians. He also influenced the procuring of The Cambridge Platform, an important constitution for Congregational churches on church government and discipline. 

Below are some quotes regarding his views on:
  • The binding authority of the Judicial Laws of Moses
  • The Sufficiency of Scripture for civil government
  • The need for rulers to punish violations of the First Table of the Law (including violations of the Sabbath)
  • Toleration and abuse of power
  • The law of nature, the Judicial Law, and commonwealths
  • Why the death penalty for the Sabbath, and whether it binds nations today

As a Fence to the Moral Law, the Judicial Laws of Moses Bind all Nations

Thomas Shepard argues that those judicial laws of Moses that are a fence to the moral law bind all nations, since such a fence is as necessary today as it was for Israel:
The judicial laws, some of them being hedges and fences to safeguard both moral and ceremonial precepts, their binding power was therefore mixed and various, for those which did safeguard any moral law, (which is perpetual) whether by just punishments or otherwise, do still morally bind all nations; for, as Piscator argues, a moral law is as good and as precious now in these times as then, and there is as much need of the preservation of these fences to preserve these laws in these times, and at all times, as well as then, there being as much danger of the treading down of those laws by the wild beasts of the world and brutish men (sometimes even in churches) now as then; and hence God would have all nations preserve their fences forever, as he would have that law preserved forever which these safeguard; but, on the other side, these judicials which did safeguard ceremonial laws which we know were not perpetual, but proper to that nation, hence those judicials which compass these about are not perpetual nor universal; the ceremonials being plucked up by their roots, to what purpose then should their fences and hedges stand? As, on the contrary, the morals abiding, why should not their judicials and fences remain?
The learned generally doubt not to affirm that Moses’ judicials bind all nations, so far forth as they contain any moral equity in them, which moral equity doth appear not only in respect of the end of the law, when it is ordered for common and universal good, but chiefly in respect of the law which they safeguard and fence, which if it be moral, it is most just and equal, that either the same or like judicial fence (according to some fit proportion) should preserve it still, because it is but just and equal that a moral and universal law should be universally preserved; from whence, by the way, the weakness of their reasonings may be observed, who, that they may take away the power of the civil magistrate in matters of the first table, (which once he had in the Jewish commonwealth,) affirm that such civil power then did arise from the judicial, and not from any moral law; whenas it is manifest that this his power in preserving God’s worship pure from idolatrous and profane mixtures, according to the judicial laws, was no more but a fence and safeguard set about moral commandments; which fences and preservatives are therefore (for substance) to continue in as much power and authority now as they did in those days, as long as such laws continue in their morality, which these preserve; the duties of the first table being also as much moral as those of the second, to the preserving of which latter from hurt and spoil in respect of their morality, no wise man questions the extent of his power.[1]

The Sufficiency of Scripture for Civil Government

Shepard holds that Scripture provides all the guidance necessary for rulers to create good laws:
Because the law is sufficient to guide the whole man, in its whole course, in all the actions or occasions it meddles with or takes in hand, even in civil as well as in religious matters. Prov. ii. 9, "Wisdom teacheth every good path" [paraphrase]. Ps. cxix. 11, "I have hid thy word, that I might not sin" [paraphrase]. Whatever one doth without a rule from the word, is not of faith. Hence the word descends to the most petty occasions of our lives; it teacheth men how to look, (Ps. cxxxi. 1,) how to speak, (Matt. xii. 36;) it descends to the plaiting of the hair, (1 Pet. iii. 5,) moving of the feet, (Is. iii. 16;) and what is of Christian liberty hath its freedom from the word: a man must give an account at the last day of every stirring of heart, thoughts, motives, and secret words; and if so, then it must be according to the rule of the word; and hence the word only hath absolute power to bind masters, servants, and princes how they govern, and people how they subject; and this the Lord hath done to make men take Counsel from him, and walk in fear before him, and approve themselves to him, especially townsmen in their places not to consult without God.
2. All good laws and orders enacted in any place by men are either expressly mentioned in the word, or are to be collected and deducted from the word, as being able to give sufficient direction herein. For all the authority of the highest power on earth, in contriving of laws, is in this alone, viz., to make prudent collection and special application of the general rules, recorded in Scripture, to such special and peculiar circumstances which may promote the public weal and good of persons, places, proceedings. Prov. viii. 85 [15], "By me princes decree justice" [paraphrase]. Josh. i. 7, 8, "Do what Moses commanded; turn not on either hand" [paraphrase]. Object. But I can not see my way from hence always. Meditate therefore on it much, and then thy way shall prosper, etc. Many things Joshua did not particularly set down by Moses, but may be collected from it. Deut. i. 17—20, "The king is to have it, that he may prolong his days in the midst of Israel," in his kingdom [not sure of the connection between the quote and the verse cited]. What made Rehoboam to turn from these ways? He thought he could not stablish his kingdom without it; that was, therefore, the ruin of him and his kingdom.[2] 
Shephard likewise affirms the sufficiency of Scripture in civil government while discussing the magistrate's need to see the Sabbath observed:
And if superiors in families are to see their gates preserved unspotted from such provoking evils, can any think but that the same bond lies upon superiors in commonwealths, who are the fathers of those great families, whose subjects also are within their gates, and the power of their jurisdictions? The civil magistrate, though he hath no power to impose new laws upon the consciences of his subjects, yet he is bound to see that the laws of God be kept by all his subjects; provided always, that herein he walk according to the law and rule of God, viz., that, 1, ignorant consciences in clear and momentous matters be first instructed; 2, doubting consciences have sufficient means of being resolved; 3, bold and audacious consciences be first forewarned. Hence it is, that though he hath no power to make holy days, and to impose the observation of them upon the consciences of his subjects, (because these are his own laws,) yet he may and should see that the Sabbath day, (the Lord’s holy day,) that this be observed, because he doth but see to the execution of God’s commandment herein.[3]

The Need for Rulers to Punish Violations of the First Table of the Law (including violations of the Sabbath)

For Shepard, denying magistrates the duty to punish offenses against the first table of the law is a rejection of Christ's kingship. And so he says the following, noting particular offenders against the judicial law such as Sabbath-breakers, false prophets, and heretics (or at least promoters of heresy):
I conceive it is casting off Christ’s power to take away power from magistrates to punish sins against the first table, of which errors and heresies in religion are part. It is as clear as the sun, that the kings of Judah that were godly did it, and were commended for it; and it is as clear they were commended for it, not as types of Christ, but because they did therein that which was right in God’s eyes, and according to the commandment of the Lord, which judicial commandments, concerning the punishing of Sabbath breakers, false prophets, heretics, etc., God's fence to preserve moral laws, they are of moral equity, and so to be observed to this day of Christian magistrates, etc.[4] 
While arguing for rulers to prohibit profaning of the Sabbath, Shepard says the following in defense of the civil enforcement of the first table of the law:
By what rule did Nehemiah not only forbid the breach of the Sabbath, but did also threaten bodily punishment upon the men of Tyre? (although they were heathens, yet were they at this time within the gates and compass of his jurisdiction, Neh. xiii. 21.) Certainly he thought himself bound in conscience to see that the Sabbath should not be profaned by any that were within his gates, according to this fourth commandment. If kings, and princes, and civil magistrates have nothing to do in matters of the first table, (and consequently must give any man liberty to profane the Sabbath that pretends conscience,) why then doth Jeremy call upon princes to see that it be not profaned, with promise of having their crowns and kingdoms preserved from wrath if thus they do, and with threatening the burning up and consuming of city and kingdom if this they do not? (Jer. xvii. 19, 25, 27.) If civil magistrates have nothing to do herein, they then have nothing to do to preserve their crowns, kingdoms, scepters, subjects, from fire and blood, and utter ruin. Nehemiah was no type of Christ, nor were the kings of Israel bound to see the Sabbath kept as types of Christ, but as nursing fathers of the commonwealth, and because their own subjects were within their gates, and under their power; and therefore, according to this moral rule of the commandment, they were bound not only to keep it themselves, but to see that all others did so also.[5] 

On Toleration and Abuse of Power

The civil magistrate's abuse of power is often raised in defense of too much toleration. Shepard addresses this objection in the following way:
It is true civil magistrates may abuse their power, judge amiss, and think that to be the command of God which is not; but we must not therefore take away their power from them, because they may pervert it and abuse it; we must not deny that power they have for God, because they may pervert it and turn the edge of it against God; for if upon this ground the magistrate hath no power over his subjects in matters of the first table, he may have also all his feathers pulled from him, and all his power taken from him in matters of the second table; for we know that he may work strange changes there, and pervert justice and judgment exceedingly: we must not deny their power, because they may turn it awry, and hurt God’s church and people by it, but (as the apostle exhorts, 1 Tim. ii. 1, 2) to pray for them the more, that under them we may live a peaceable life in all godliness and honesty: it is a thousand times better to suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake and for a good conscience, than to desire and plead for toleration of all consciences, that so (by this cowardly device and lukewarm principle) our own may be untouched: it was never heard of, until now of late, that any of God’s prophets, apostles, martyrs, faithful witnessess, etc., that they ever pleaded for liberty in error, but only for the truth, which they preached and prayed for, and suffered for unto the death; and their sufferings for the truth with zeal, patience, faith, constancy, have done more good than the way of universal toleration is like to do, which is purposely invented to avoid trouble. Truth hath ever spread by opposition and persecution; but error, being a child of Satan, hath fled, by a zealous resisting it.[6]
While Shepherd held that rulers should tolerate the humble conscience, for him there is a world of difference between this and tolerating in any particular civil matter those who pretend conscience. 
Sick and weak men are to be tendered much, but lunatic and frantic men are in best case when they are well fettered and bound; a weak conscience is to be tendered, a humble conscience tolerated; errors of weakness, not wickedness, are with all gentleness to be handled; the liberty given in the reign of Episcopacy for sports, and pastimes, and may games, upon the Lord’s day, was once loathsome to all honest minds; but now to allow a greater liberty to buy, sell, plow, cart, thresh, sport upon the Sabbath day, to all those who pretend conscience, or rather that they have no conscience of one day more than another, is to build up Jericho and Babel again, and to lay foundations of wrath to the land; for God will certainly revenge the pollutions of his Sabbaths: if God be troubled in his rest, no wonder if he disturbs our peace: some of the ancients think that the Lord brought the flood of waters upon the Sabbath day, as they gather from Gen. vii. 10, because they were grown to be great profaners of the Sabbath; and we know that Prague was taken upon this day. The day of their sin began all their sorrows, which are continued to this day, to the amazement of the world. When the time comes that the Lord’s precious Sabbaths are the days of God’s church’s rest, then shall come in the church’s peace. (Ps. cii. 13, 14.) The free grace of Christ must first begin herein with us, that we may find at last that rest which this evil world is not yet like to see, unless it speedily love his law more, and his Sabbaths better.[7]

On the Law of Nature, the Judicial Law, and Commonwealths

Shepherd held that the law of nature could be better known by knowledge of God's law, or less known due to the corruption of sin. Moreover, many judicial laws are still natural and moral, and are binding on nations:
If more narrow inquiry be made, what the law of nature is, these distinctions must be observed:—
1. The law of nature is either of pure or corrupt nature.
The law of pure nature was the law of God writ on Adam’s heart in innocency, which was nothing else but that holy bent and inclination of the heart within to act according to the holy law of God revealed, or covenant made with him without; and thus Aquinas places the law of nature in this inclination. 
The law of corrupt nature is that dim light left in the mind, and moral inclination left in the will, in respect of some things contained in the law of God, which the apostle calls conscience, (Rom. ii. 15;) which natural conscience is nothing but the remnants and general principles of the law of pure nature, left in all men since the fall, which may be increased by more knowledge of the law of God, or more diminished and defaced by the wickedness of man. (Tit. i. 15.)
2. The law of corrupt nature is taken either more largely or strictly. 
As it is taken more largely, so it comprehends all that which is agreeable and suitable to natural reason, and that from a natural innate equity in the thing, when it is made known, either by divine instruction or human wisdom, although it be not immediately known by the light of nature; and thus many judicial laws are natural and moral, (though positive,) and of binding nature, unto this day
As it is taken strictly, so it comprehends no more but what nature immediately knows, or may know, without external instruction, as parents to be honored, man's life to be preserved.[8]
According to Shepherd, the moral law as seen in the law of nature is almost blotted out for the unsaved; however, while there is little known regarding matters of the First Table, there is a general printing of the notions of the Second Table of the law in their hearts which assists in the preservation of commonwealths:
If we speak of the law of nature, strictly taken, for that which is immediately and readily known by the common light of nature in all men, then it may be safely affirmed, that although the Sabbath should not be in this sense natural, yet it will not follow that it is not therefore moral; for the moral law, once writ on man’s heart in pure nature, is almost blotted out; only some rudera and old rubbish is left of it in a perverse mind and a corrupt heart. (Eph. iv. 18.) We see the wisest of the heathens making those things to be moral virtues (Junius instanceth in the law of private revenge, and we know they magnified will worship) which the Scripture condemns as moral vices and sins: God would have commonwealths preserved, in all places of the world, from the inundation and deluge of man’s wickedness, and therefore he hath generally printed the notions of the second table upon men’s hearts, to set bounds (as by sea banks) unto the overflowings thereof, and hence it is that they are generally known: but he would not have churches every where, and therefore there is but little known concerning matters of the first table, and consequently about this law of the Sabbath, which notwithstanding may be moral, although it be not so immediately made known.[9]

Why the Death Penalty for the Sabbath, and Whether it Binds Nations Today

Shepherd holds that the man who was executed for breaking the Sabbath in Scripture was not simply executed for gathering sticks, but for doing so presumptuously. He then ponders as to whether such a penalty applies today:
The man that gathered sticks on the Sabbath (Num. xv. 30) was put to death. What! for gathering of sticks only? Why then did not the just God put them to death who were the first offenders, (and therefore most fit to be made examples,) who went out to gather manna upon this day? (Ex. xvi.) This gathering of sticks, therefore, though little in itself, yet seems to be aggravated by presumption; and that the man did presumptuously break the Sabbath, and therefore it is generally observed, that this very example follows the law of punishing a presumptuous transgressor with death in this very chapter: and though it be said that they found a man gathering sticks, as if it were done secretly, and not presumptuously, yet we know that presumptuous sins may be committed secretly as well as openly, though they are not in so high a degree presumptuous as when they are done more openly: the fear of the law against Sabbath breakers might restrain the man from doing that openly which before God was done proudly and presumptuously; and though Moses doubted what to do with the man, who had that capital law given him before against Sabbath breakers, yet they might be ignorant for a time of the full and true meaning of it, which the Lord here seems to expound, viz., that a Sabbath breaker sinning presumptuously is to be put to death; and although it be doubted whether such a law is not too rigorous in these times, yet we do see that where the magistrate neglects to restrain from this sin, the Lord takes the magistrate’s work into his own hand, and many times cuts them off suddenly who profane his Sabbath presumptuously; and it is worth inquiring into, whether presumptuous Sabbath breakers are not still to be put to death; which I doubt not but that the Lord will either one day clear up, or else discover some specialty in the application of this judicial law, to that polity of the Jews, as most fit for them, and not so universally fit for all others in Christian commonwealths; but this latter I yet see no proof for; nor do I expect the clearing up of the other while the temper of the times is loose and lukewarm.[10]


[1] Thomas Shepard, The Works of Thomas Shepard, First Pastor of the First Church, Cambridge, Mass. with a Memoir of His Life and Character: Volume III, ed. John Adams Albro  (Boston, MA: Doctrinal Tract and Book Society, 1853), 53, 54.
[2] Ibid., 346, 347.
[3] Ibid., 263.
[4] Ibid., 342.
[5] Ibid., 263, 264.
[6] Ibid., 264.
[7] Ibid., 264, 265.
[8] Ibid., 177.
[9] Ibid., 179.
[10] Ibid., 256.

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