O’Donovan on Objective, Ethical Orders

Part of the natural law debate depends on identifying an objective order in God’s creation.  I have no problem with such a task; my contention is on identifying the ethical content of such an order.  I will take my cue from Oliver O’Donovan’s Resurrection and Moral Order (1994).  O’Donovan gives numerous helpful discussions, and unlike the modern natural law theorist, he is fully aware of the problems in such a task.    A fresh tactic of natural law theorists today is to posit an objective moral order in which man lives.  This is much better than the old “pop-Thomist” account which posits a “two-storey” theology:  Jesus gets to have a spiritual realm while “natural” man gets to have an autonomous realm.  Jesus’s claims, specifically the Trinitarian claims, have to stay out of natural man’s claims (Geisler and Feinberg, 1997, 175-176).   This is known as “not inviting God to the party.   Ralph Smith gives the appropriate response, “This is a precarious methodology for both theology and ancient politics.  As Belshazzar discovered, God comes to the party whenever He pleases” (Smith, 2002, 66 n.9)!

O’Donovan notes, “The order of things that God has made is there.  It is objective and mankind has a place within it” (17).  I agree with O’Donovan 100%, and the natural law theorist probably does as well.   I take the argument a step further, though, and note a problem which O’Donovan clearly sees but the natural law theorist does not:  “The epistemological programme for an ethic that is ‘natural’, in the sense that its contents are simply known to all, has to face dauntingly high barriers” (19).  In other words, be specific about the stipulations in such an ethic.  This is why O’Donovan’s project is superior, for he adds the next premise:  “We may only conclude that any certainty we may have about the order which God has made depends on God’s own disclosure of himself and his works.”  This is why O’Donovan warns against divorcing “natural, creation” ethics from “kindgom” ethics (read: Special Revelation).  He says, This way of posing the alternatives is not acceptable, for the very act of God which ushers in his kingdom is the resurrection of Christ from the dead, the reaffirmation of creation” (O’Donovan, 15).   At this point any common ground between covenant-keeper and covenant-breaker evaporates.  We cannot as good Christian theologians talk about God’s creation apart from the rest of the story:  God’s re-creation in the resurrection of Jesus Christ (and the ascension).  At the end of the day it is not enough for a covenant-breaker to look at a squirrel and simply come to the conclusion, “I suppose there is an objective order after all.”  Rather, the goal is to get him to bow the knee to the Ascended and Reigning Christ.

The Objective Order and Demons

There is another problem with Christian theorists simply resting with a natural, objective order apart from the revelation and re-creation in Christ.   Paul writes, “When we were children we were slaves to the elemental spirits (stoichea) of the universe: (Galatians 4:3).  O’Donovan comments, “These elemental spirits are actually identified with the law given by the hand of angels on Mt. Sinai, and yet at the same time they are the beings which by nature are not gods, to which even the formerly Gentile pagans were in bondage (4:8-9)!  How can Paul so daringly associate the revealed morality of the Old Testament faith with the superstitious idolatry of paganism?  Because the order of creation, whether in a pure or impure form, can encounter us only as a threat” (22).

There is an evangelistic opportunity here, to be sure, but there is also an implicit warning with stopping at created order from an unredeemed perspective.  My goal here was not to refute natural law, but to ask an epistemological question–what is the content of natural law and to explore the limits of natural law.  We have seen the limits above; we shall yet see if the question is answered.

Works Cited

Geisler, Norman and Feinberg, Paul.  An Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective.  1980 reprint. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997.

O’Donovan, Oliver.  Resurrection and Moral Order. 1986 reprint.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1994.

Smith, Ralph.  Paradox and Truth: Rethinking Van Til on the Trinity.  Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2002.

Donald Cargill: No King But Christ

Grant, Maurice, No King but Christ

The best way to describe Donald Cargill’s life is “Richard Cameron minus the muskets.”  He stood for the same principles as Cameron but ultimately did not actively confront the government.  Cargill’s life is not that different from other Covenanter field preachers, but he is set apart in that he excommunicated the king and thought out a coherent (if too cautious) theory of resistance.

No King But Christ, The Story of Donald Cargill  -     
        By: Maurice Grant

Like Cameron and other field preachers, Cargill rejected compromises like the Indulgence (an interesting study would be to compare the Indulgences of the post-1660 Indulgences to today’s 501(c)(3) exemptions; warning: you will lose your job as an academician if you do so). They saw this as a concession of Christ’s royal prerogatives, not only to the state, but to a debauched and degenerate monarch.  Who ruled the Church?  Jesus or the State?   It is important to point out that both sides saw their claims as absolute (shades of Rushdoony!).  If the Erastian position is true, then any resistance to his ecclesiastical claims is in fact a resistance to his civil claims.   A conservative theorist can no longer simply say, “We will resist you in the ecclesiastical realm by spiritual weapons, but we won’t resist in the civil realm.”  The Erastian (quite consistently) sees no such distinction.


If such was the opposition between church and state, then it is hard to avoid the outcome.  This is where I think Cargill was inconsistent.  He saw the issues as clearly as Cameron did (or even more clearly), but he refused to follow the applications like Cameron did.   At his trial, his Erastian accusers asserted that Cargill’s Melvillian 2-Kingdom view led to civil disobedience (and granting their premises, they were correct):  since the Crown was metaphysically one (cf. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies), any rejection of one aspect of its sovereignty, pace Head of the Church, is in fact a rejection of the Crown entire.   As Grant notes, it is civil, not ecclesiastical disobedience.

Second issue:  Charles II had sworn to abide by the sanctions of the Solemn League & Covenant–he based his legitimacy on them (which covenants, the Word of God calls binding, Galatians 3:15).  He broke the covenants; therefore, he forfeited his legitimacy over Presbyterian Scotland.  It was on these grounds that Cameron took up arms (and on other legitimate grounds; lawful self-defense and defense of the helpless, which natural law says we can do [it’s so fun to appeal to natural law when it comes to resistance; critics of theonomy don’t know what to do with that! LOL]).  And since Charles’ troops were raping and murdering their way across Presbyterian Scotland, Cameron’s struggle was a limited, defensive war which had already been justified by Samuel Rutherford.

Cargill refused to follow Cameron on these principles, but I think Cameron was right.  Given the Crown’s metaphysical assumptions, it made no sense to plead for a partial resistance.  Given that the oaths that Charles II swore to implicitly called for his removal if he broke them, resistance was justified since the law implied that.

Notwithstanding, Cargill died well.  The book is well-written and the endnotes provide a gold mine of interesting information.   Interestingly, in this book Grant is quite critical of Cameron’s actions, but in Grant’s biography of Cameron written over a decade later, he tries to justify Cameron’s actions.

Is the PCA going liberal?

This question rages on the major message boards.  The initial answer seems to be “no.”  For those of us in former Baptist circles, who fought old-school liberalism to the death, and have the scars to prove it (no joke; I was actually physically attacked in college on this point), it would seem that the PCA isn’t going liberal.  The denomination believes in inerrancy (sort of) and the Westminster Confession (loosely speaking).   The objection seems to be:  if we say the PCA is going liberal, that waters down the term.  The PCUSA is liberal and there is a big difference.”

But the road to liberalism takes different turns.  This morning i just finished rereading Gary North’s Westminster’s Confession: The Abandonment of the Van Til Legacy.  Other issues about theonomy aside, North made several observations which seem to have been vindicated:  With the hiring of Ed Clowney as President, Westminster Seminary moved towards a broader evangelical base.  They never rejected the old Confessionalism, but with the move towards neo-Evangelicalism it became harder to maintain the old Confessionalism.

I actually think Westminster Philly moved back towards a more confessional stance in the last ten years.  However, what North projected of WTS actually is true of the PCA.  If by liberal one means “denying the supernatural,” then the PCA isn’t going liberal, at least not anytime soon.   I think it is better to say they are going “neo-evangelical,” best represented by Christianity Today.  Is neo-Evangelicalism liberal?  Not at first glance.  However, most neo-evangelical movements eventually go liberal.   Christianity Today, a bastion of supposedly right-wing Christianity, at one time hosted a symposium and invited (if not endorsed) pro-abortion physicians and theologians (one of the theologians, by the way, who endorsed abortion, also wrote an essay in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique; just thought I would throw that out there.)

Here is the difference between liberals and mainstream status quo institutional conservatives:  liberals are cunning and they know they are consistent in terms of their covenant-breaking (whereas conservatives think liberals will adopt a common-ground neutral playing field, Roe v. Wade notwithstanding).   They know just how to play the game to marginalize conservative.   And in terms of the PCA, they probably don’t even see themselves as “liberal.” I don’t even think they are liberal.  However, history does play out that when Confessional bodies seek the lowest-common denominator, they usually get it.  At which point the question comes up:  how exactly are you Confessional?

Prolegomena to free-will discussions

The Reformed theologue is usually tarred as manichean, since he denies “free will.”  (If you are not seeing the connection, don’t worry too much about it.).   I wonder how many of these people have actually read and listened to Richard Muller on free choice.  Muller notes (and I will provide page numbers and sources later; I am typing this from memory) that the Reformed believe in liberum arbitrium, free choice.   Can we believe in free will?  Well, it depends on how you define it.  Muller notes that the post-Reformation insistence on free choice and not free will safeguarded several metaphysical assumptions.   Free choice, as seen here, means a freedom to choose among limited options.  Drake notes,

The word freedom or free will has numerous definitions and many of these conversations are red herrings and straw men. Calvinists believe in free agency but reject free will. What is the difference? Free will defined: “the equal ability, under given circumstances, to choose either of two courses of action.” (Dr. Clark, Religion, Reason and Revelation, pg 202) In this sense there is not a determining factor operating on the will. Free agency/Voluntary Agency defined: The will is not determined by physical or physiological factors. Free agency is not free will, there is a difference. Infallible certainty rests on necessity though voluntary. An example: Judas’ betrayal was necessary, that is, it was predestined, determined and inevitable though Judas was a free/voluntary agent. There is also no compulsion or coaction.

It would be interesting to see how those who castigate Reformed necessitarianism respond to the problem of Judas.

Various Types of Theological Necessity

Turretin on different types of freedom

necessitas consequentiae (necessity of the consequences):  this is a hypothetical or non-absolute necessity.  It is brought about by a previous contingent act.  It refers to the necessity of the finite order.  There is no absolute necessity that God decree what he decrees, but since he has decreed so, he is bound to fulfill it.

necessitas consequentis (necessity of the consequent):  this is absolute necessity that refers to the opera ad intra.

Practical value of these distinctions:  it allows the theologian to intelligently and without confusion speak of both necessary and free acts.   Our acts are necessary in the sense that Providence is not subject to change.  But our acts are not absolutely necessary, since God was not bound to decree such.

The more I read of Richard Muller and other exponents of Reformed Scholasticism, the more I realize that the Reformation tradition had a rich and full understanding of freedom of choice.  The following is taken from Willem J. van Asselt’s Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism.Contrary to Arminian and Catholic charges, the Reformed view of a “necessary” will is not incompatible with “freedom,” provided both terms are understood correctly. Francis Turretin provides six different types of “necessity,” four of which the Arminian/Romanist must affirm are compatible with freedom: 1) necessity of dependence of the creature on God; 2) [Asselt intended to list the second type of necessity, but I don’t think he did], 3) every creature is dependent on God in terms of the future per God’s foreknowledge and decree. 3a) Asselt writes, “However great the creature’s freedom may be, these acts are still necessary from this perspective, otherwise God’s foreknowledge could be false and his decree changeable.” 4) free will must go with rational necessity, for must not a free action be a rational one? 5) Free will relates to moral necessity, or that of habit. If you do an action enough, whether good or bad, it becomes a habit, making it easier to do this action. Few will deny this observation. 6) The necessity of an event or the existence of a thing. If a thing is, it is necessarily.  This is an example of a necessity of the consequence.   It is not an absolute necessity.

In short, freedom can be determined because freedom is not absolute (Asselt, 162-163).

Necessity of the Consequent, Consequence

The necessity of the consequent is the necessity of a proposition behind the “then” in an if…then statement. The necessity of the consequence is the consequence itself. Ie, the implicative necessity. In the implicative necessity, neither the antecedent nor the consequent needs to be necessary. Only the necessity of the implicative relation counts. Take the two propositions:

(1) If I marry Marian, then Marian is my wife.
(2) It is necessary that Marian is my wife (if I marry her).

In proposition (1) it is contingent that I marry Marian. I did not have to do so. Only the implication between the antecedent and consequent is necessary. In proposition 2 it is the result of the conditional proposition that is necessary.

Proposition 1 does not imply proposition 2. Therefore, in an argument of implicative relation of necessity, both the antecedent and consequent can be contingent and not necessary. According to the Reformed scholastics, the necessity of the consequence corresponds with absolute necessity and the necessity of the consequent with hypothetical necessity. In this distinction, the Reformed scholastics combat the charge that the divine decree destroys the contingency and freedom of the world. Therefore, necessity and contingency are compatible and not contradictory.

Most important in this distinction is that it depends on God’s will ad extra. If the decision of the divine will is directed to contingent objects ad extra, then God’s will is contingent, too. In other words, God contingently wills all that is contingent. Created reality, therefore, is the contingent manifestation of divine freedom and does not necessarily emanate from God’s essence. For if this were the case, all things would coincide fundamentally with God’s essence, and the actual world would be eternal (198-199).

Do Calvinists Exist?

This was not written by Jay Dyer, but by “M.B.”  Since he only posted his initials, that’s how I will refer to him.

He begins:

The funny thing about the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate is that there is no such thing. What? That’s right. Calvinism does not exist, at least not any more than the Ku Klux Klan does

Presumably this is his thesis. Let’s see if he can defend it.

Reformed and Presbyterian elders and apologists live and only carry any sort of weight in a fantasy-land; the Videodrome. Calvinism was born 500 years ago, and it died 250 years ago. It showed up on the world scene in the mid 16th Century, and it walked out of the world stage in the 18th Century. How you feel about its rise and fall is one thing, but exist it does not.

This actually isn’t entirely false.   Calvinism did abandon its judicial theology (with the exception of a few Covenanting groups) in the 18th century (and had been officially outlawed in Britain in 1660 on pain of death).

Do you think Cotton Mather and John Winthrop would smile upon the legions of goofball Calvinist losers that blog about the wonders of their glory? Would they recognize cyber-warriors like “TurretinFan”, who apparently lives on his Mac (or PC) night and day, just because he’s their biggest (or only) fanboy left?

I’ve always been iffy on New England Puritans.  If I wanted to make a stronger case against Calvinists, I probably would have chosen other people.  Presumably the unspoken premises are: 1) Mather and Winthrop represent historic Calvinism in such a way that TF doesn’t.  Okay, provide evidence and supporting premises.

In all likelihood, if theocratic ideas were actualized, those men would burn at the stake (or consign to Rhode Island ) many of their supposed “successors” and “heirs”. That’s the inside joke in “the Reformed faith”, and everyone who has ever tried to take Rushdoony and North seriously on “the judicial laws” knows it.

Sadly, he’s right, though I think there are more theocratically-minded Calvinists than he lets on.

Having no objective ecclesiological reality to base any thing on, or to hand down any sort of concrete verdict about what constitutes ‘heresy’, so-called Calvinism’s elite boils down to factions and sects of geeky whites taking their best shot at each other over the most irrelevant and subjective crap imaginable. And when it’s convenient for them to discard objective standards, they’ll do so at the drop of a hat. They do it with the Early Church Fathers all the time.

How should one respond to this?  It seems more vitriol than argument.  There is an old secret in TV-news debates that when your opponent is speaking you should never make a facial expression of any kind.  If you seem visibly angry, then you lose credibility.  So, about an objective ecclesiology.  He needs to give us a bit more claim on what constitutes an objective ecclesiology. I think when MB wrote this he was still Roman Catholic.  I don’t think he is anymore.    As Bavinck notes, all truth claims have both an objective and subjective element.  The objective element is God-revealed-in-Christ.  The subjectivising part is when I process that epistemologically. It has to be internalized as I mentally process it.   Subjectivity is inevitable.  Does that mean relativism?  I don’t think so and no one has provided an argument that it does.   But to the quote above:  there is no actual argument so I don’t need to say anymore.

Just look at the webmaster of “A Puritan’s Mind”. He was a “Reformed Baptist” that “converted” to “Reformed Presbyterianism”. He wrote several retractions of his ‘covenantal’ case for credo-baptism. Yet, none of that matters in any real sense, except insofar as it got him to go from his little baptist sect to the Presbyterian sect on the other side of town. He didn’t break ties with the heretical credo-baptists, who he’ll align himself with at the drop of a hat against Presbyterians that differ with him over the issue of paedo-communion. He didn’t anathematize them for teaching that covenant children are unworthy of baptism, which the “Magisterial Reformers” were more than willing to do. It was a meaningless and arbitrary decision on his part, except at the subjective level, in that he has now decided his children would be candidates for baptism. Objectively speaking, all he has introduced is more ecclesiastical chaos; or else some seriously hard ramifications for Presbyterians about how to regard his “Reformed Baptist” buddies.

That may have been true ten years ago.  MacMahon is now firmly in the theocratic old-time Presbyterian camp that MB so laments as missing.  As to specifics, MB failed to list any so we can ignore the rest.

But of course, because they think neat things about TULIP, and they enjoy a good brew every now and then, the judicial laws of Moses concerning the heretic can be put aside. I mean, after all, how meaningful is baptism any way? It’s not one of the “important” doctrines, like supra vs. infra-lapsarianism.

When God granted me doctrinal repentance in the spring of 2012, I came to a realization:  the annoying aspects of Calvinism exist only in the internet.  When I go to a NAPARC church I just don’t see the above problems manifested.

Now, any sane person should be able to read that and laugh. And many do; especially the homeschooled kids that grow up in it. Daddy and his buddy hopping from sect to sect is just as relevant to them as the latest Coldplay song, and quite frankly, that sure sounds a lot better. Yes Virginia , there is a reason Puritanism didn’t last but a generation.

It lasted 3 generations and the reason it didn’t continue is because Charles Stuart II outlawed non-Episcopalian theology and turned Scotland into a killing field.  He literally killed off almost all dissent.  Don’t talk about stuff about which you are ignorant.

If you get into ‘classical Reformation’ theology, you will wind up going Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. I mean, you have to.

Splendid.  Provide an argument.  Ironically, I think I am the best counter-example to this.

So Luther thought Carlstadt, one of his professed supporters, who was a proto-type of Puritanical Calvinists, to be “crazy”. What does that mean about Gary DeMar or Doug Phillips? What would he think about some one as detached from him as your run of the mill RPCUS/CREC theonomist? They are not apart of the same institution as Luther, which Carlstadt was (i.e. the German state-church). They’re not similar in terms of where they were located in history, as Carlstadt and Luther were (German men coming out of medieval Roman Catholicism). If Luther were to look upon the Reformed “full quiver” street preacher crowd, or the “Truly Reformed” neo-Puritan gang, or even the Latin-knowing classicists of the “Federal Vision” crowd of ‘Luthbyterians’, he would cringe in disgust.

Exactly what’s the relevance here?  Of course Luther would sneer in disgust.   Luther rejected Reformed Theology.  This is familiar territory to anyone who spent more than five minutes reading church history.

The early Lutherans (Luther, Melanchthon, Chemnitz , etc.) viciously opposed the heresy of “Crypto-Calvinism”, some thing few (if any) Reformed elders well ever tell their flock. Do some research on it. If someone tried to enter a seminary in Germany in the 16th Century, with Calvinist ideas, they weren’t exactly received with any sort of charity, or a willingness to side-step such a “side issue”. No, there was no “Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals” in those days. That’s the stuff of fan-boys coming together out of mutual respect for irrelevance.

This is historically false.  Melancthon made rapproachment with Bucer, and Luther even hinted that Calvin’s eucharistology was not the same as Zwingli’s, which Luther (rightly) rejected.  Even Chemnitz, while fully rejecting Calvin’s view, did concede that the Reformed in their better moments approached something similar.  Chemnitz said of the reality between sign and thing signified there was a “union” of sorts (Chemnitz, 54).

Now some Calvinist will retort, “And you think Aquinas would recognize your typical traditionalist Catholic”? While I agree most modern American papists can’t hold a candle to so great a saint on a figurative level, they still hold a candle to them in a very real sense. You see, we celebrate the same Mass as Aquinas. Calvinists don’t even have the same substances present at their “worship service” as Calvin and Luther. Most have Welch’s grape corn-syrup/juice hybrid in place of actual wine. Say what you want about Catholics, but at least they get the most elementary and crucial forms of the faith correct.

Most Catholics I know are embarrassed by Thomas’s Aristotelianism of substance/accidents.  And if you think Catholics celebrate the same mass, then see here.  If you say that such is not representative, then you see my point.

Catholics have a visible communion of saints, the Real Presence, and a very real and meaningful continuity with the historic Church. That’s because it is the historic Church. Our priests have an apostolic succession that can be traced back to the twelve Apostles. The church is visible and hierarchical, and our buildings still have relics of its holiest members. The Catholic Church functions much like in the Old Testament nation of Israel, which, though this may come as a surprise to “neo-Puritan” theonomists, was denounced by John Owen as “the Judaical church” (Owen didn’t even like the Lord’s prayer –see volumes 14 and 15 of Owen’s Works).
Calvinism amounts to disgruntled baptists “playing church”.

This is a string of assertions with no argument.

What continuity do self-made pseudo-Calvinists, whom the French lawyer wouldn’t even understand, have with their past? Knox’s grave is buried underneath a parking lot in Scotland . And lest they speak of the decadence of modernity for not honoring so “great” a man, they need remember that, if Knox weren’t 6 feet under, he’d be taking a sword to their necks for their hypocritical celebration of Christmas (which just about every Calvinist does to some degree or another, without regard for the ‘purity’ of ‘the gospel’). Calvin’s Geneva is not going to be reincarnated by malcontent Scotch-Irish American goofballs any more than Forrest’s Klan is going to be by the efforts of backwoods trailer-trash.

And?  The rest of the article, loosely-so-called, is a series of the same vitriol   He basically lambasts “Calvinists” (having never historically defined the term) for not being true to their heirs.   Anybody can play this game. At most it simply proves that today’s “Calvinists” are inconsistent.  It does nothing to prove the truth or falsity of the system itself.  And I note he did not deal with the guys at SWRB, who would largely agree with his disgruntlement.  To paraphrase Gary North, My post wasn’t a great post.  It wasn’t even a good post.  It just had to be better than M.B.’s post.

Upcoming posts on Natural Law theory

I am going to look at the arguments from the Calvinist International and examine natural law theory.  Pun unintended, I plan to approach this with a neutral mind.   Granted, I’ve some reservations about natural law theory, but I also haven’t read too many good defenses of it, so perhaps I’ve argued against straw men in the past.  We’ll see.

Primer on Knoxian Public Theology

A Primer on a Knoxian Public Theology

 These excerpts are taken from Odonovan’s From Irenaeus to Grotius, pp.686ff. I will take some of John Knox’s quotes and offer explanatory comments when necessary.

 Odonovan introduces: “Repeatedly Knox discerns God’s present command, violation, and punishgment in God’s historical dealings with Israel, reading the Old Testament as a legal casebook, a catalogue of juridical precedents (Kyle, 1984, 44, 48), with two striking results. The first result is the binding authority for all Christian commonwealths of the Mosaic judicial, requiring the capital punishment of all idolaters—a future English Puritan theme. The second is the scrutability of God’s providence (Odonovan, 686-687).

 Knox: “If any think that the punishment of idolaters be contrary to the practice of the apostles who, finding the gentiles to be in idolatry, did call them to repentence, requiring no punishment, let the sam man recall that the gentiles before the preaching of Christ lived, as the apostle speaketh, without God in the world, drowned in idolatry, according to the blindness and ignorance in which then they were holden as a profane nation…(“Apellation of John Knox,” qtd in O’Donovan, 692)

 Implications: Knox was already aware of the later Presbyterian critique of theocratic Presbyterianism: we don’t see the apostles doing x. There are several lines of response:

  • The above is a fallacious argument from silence

  • Switch out idolatry with any other sin that has criminal sanctions and live with the consequences (we don’t see the apostles punishing sodomy, usury, bestiality. Kidnapping, rape, etc. Why stop with idolatry?)

John Knox on the punishment of idolatry

Courtesy of D. Ritchie.

If by God’s Scriptures these precedents be so plain, that reasonably no man can deny any point thereof, then have I good hope, that ye will admit it to be necessary, that you avoid idolatry, if the league betwixt God and you shall be kept sure.  And, first, it is to be observed, that God’s justice being infinite in matters of religion, requireth like obedience of all those that be within this league at all times, that he requireth of every one nation or particular man in any one age.  For all that be within this league are one body, as Moses doth witness reckoning men, women, children, servants, princes, priests, officers, and strangers, within the covenant of the Lord (Deut. 29).  Then, what God requireth of one (as touching this league), he requireth of all, for his justice is immutable; and what he condemneth in any one, that he must condemn in others, for he is righteous without partiality.

John Knox, ‘Letter to the faithful in England’ in R. S. Candlish (ed.), Select practical writings of John Knox (1845; Edinburgh, 2011), pp 46-7.

 John Knox on Deuteronomy 13 and the difference between persecution and prosecution

We say, the man is not persecuted for his conscience, that, declining from God, blaspheming his Majestie, and contemning his religion, obstinately defendeth erroneous and false doctrine. This man, I say, lawfully convicted, if he suffer the death pronounced by a lawful Magistrate, is not persecuted, (as in the name of Servetus ye furiously complain,) but he suffereth punishment according to God’s commandment, pronounced in Deuteronomie, the xiii. chapter.

John Knox, An answer to the cavillations of an adversary respecting the doctrine of predestination (1560) repr. in The works of John Knox, ed. David Laing (6 vols, Edinburgh, 1856), v, 231.

 John Knox on the modern applicability of the curses of the covenant

How the Lord threatened plague after plague, and ever the last to be the sorest, till finally he will consume realms and nations if they repent not, read chapter 26 of Leviticus, which chapter oft I have willed you to mark, as yet I do unfeignedly.  And think not that it appertaineth to the Jews only.  No, brethren; the prophets are the interpreters of the law, and they make the plagues of God common to all offenders, the punishment ever beginning at the house-hold of God. […]

John Knox, ‘Letter to the faithful in England’ in R. S. Candlish (ed.), Select practical writings of John Knox (1845; Edinburgh, 2011), pp 31-2.


 Kings then have not absolute power to do in their regiment what pleaseth them; but their power is limited by God’s Word.  So that if they strike where God commandeth not, they are but murderers; and if, they spare, where God commandeth to strike, they and their throne are criminal, and guilty of the wickedness that aboundeth upon the face of the earth for lack of punishment.  Oh, if kings and princes would consider what account shall be craved of them, as well of their ignorance and misknowledge of God’s will, as for the neglecting of their office!

John Knox, ‘A sermon preached by John Knox, minister of Christ Jesus, in the church of Edinburgh, upon Sunday, August 19, 1565, for the which he has forbidden to preach for a season’ in R. S. Candlish (ed.), Select practical writings of John Knox (1845; Edinburgh, 2011), pp 212-14.


 Of which histories it is evident that the reformation of religion in all points, together with the punishment of false teachers, doth appertain to the power of the civil magistrate.  For what God required of them, His justice must require of others having the like charge and authority; what He did approve in them, He cannot but approve in all others who with like zeal and sincerity do enterprise to purge the Lord’s temple and sanctuary.  What God required to them, it is before declared, to wit, that most diligently they should observe His law, statutes and ceremonies. John Knox, The appellation of John Knox from the cruel and most injust sentence pronounced against him by the false bishops and clergy of Scotland, with his supplication and exhortation to the nobility, estates and commonality of the same realm (Geneva, 1558) in idem, On rebellion, ed. R. A. Mason (Cambridge, 1994), pp 90-1.

 John Knox on the civil magistrate’s duty to ensure that heretics are punished and the people instructed

[…] God requireth of you to provide that your subjects be rightly instructed in His true religion and that the same by you be reformed whensoever abuses do creep in by malice of Satan and negligence of men; and last, that ye are bound to remove from honour and to punish with death (if the crime so require) such as deceive the people of defraud them of that food of their souls, I mean God’s lively Word.

John Knox, The appellation of John Knox from the cruel and most injust sentence pronounced against him by the false bishops and clergy of Scotland, with his supplication and exhortation to the nobility, estates and commonality of the same realm (Geneva, 1558) in idem, On rebellion, ed. R. A. Mason (Cambridge, 1994), p. 84.

 John Knox on the execution of Servetus and Leviticus 24

But if the law of God be diligently searched, this doubt shall easily be resolved.  For it will witness that no less ought the murderer, the blasphemer, and such other, to suffer the death, then that the meek and the fearer of God should be defended.  And also, that such as maintain and defend the one, are no less criminal before God then those that oppress the others. […] Now to you justifiers of Servetus: Servetus was an abominable blasphemer against God; and you are justifiers of Servetus: therefore ye are blasphemers before God, like abominable as he was. […] Ye will not easily admit that Servetus be convicted of blasphemy; for if he 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 judgement, and they the true 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.

John Knox, An answer to the cavillations of an adversary respecting the doctrine of predestination (1560) repr. in The works of John Knox, ed. David Laing (6 vols, Edinburgh, 1856), v, 223-4.


 For it is a thing more certain that whatsoever God required of the civil magistrate in Israel or Judah concerning the observation of true religion during the time of the Law, the same doth he require of lawful magistrates professing Christ Jesus in the time of the Gospel, as the Holy Ghost hath taught us by the mouth of David, saying (Psalm 2): ‘Be learned, you that judge the earth, kiss the Son, lest that the Lord wax angry and that ye perish from the way.’  This admonition did not extend to the judges under the Law only, but doth also include such as be promoted to honours in the time of the Gospel, when Christ Jesus doth reign and fight in His spiritual kingdom, whose enemies in that Psalm be most sharply taxed, their fury expressed and vanity mocked.  And then are kings and judges, who think themselves free from all law and obedience, commanded to repent their former blind rage, and judges are charged to be learned.  And last are all commanded to serve the Eternal in fear, to rejoice before Him in trembling, to kiss the Son, that is, to give unto Him most humble obedience.  Whereof it is evident that the rulers, magistrates and judges now in Christ’s kingdom are no less bound to obedience unto God than were those under the Law.

John Knox, The appellation of John Knox from the cruel and most injust sentence pronounced against him by the false bishops and clergy of Scotland, with his supplication and exhortation to the nobility, estates and commonality of the same realm (Geneva, 1558) in idem, On rebellion, ed. R. A. Mason (Cambridge, 1994), pp 91-2.


Gary North defeated my eschatology

I’ve defended historic premillennialism for the last five to seven years. I’m coming to a Reformed position–the Reformers’ position.   I don’t want to say postmillennialism for a few reasons: 1) I am not persuaded that some forms of postmillennialism can account for certain NT passages and 2) too many people wrongly associate it with theonomy and the Christian Reconstruction movement.  Granted, that is their ignorance and not my problem, but I don’t want to deal with the drama right now.  I recently finished North’s Millennialism and Social Theory.  Here is what I took from it:

  1. Does God impose sanctions on nations that break his Law?  It appears that he does.  While the causality between obedience and sanctions is not a strict 1:1, over the long run there is a pattern.  As David Chilton points out in Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators,  few (any?) Protestant nations have ever suffered a catastrophic famine.  Not because they have never had bad weather or conditions, but because of the Puritan work ethic heritage they are able to save and adapt.   By contrast, those countries whose religious conditions gave rise to Revolutionary socialism routinely experience these catastrophes.
  2. In Matthew 25 when Jesus is dividing the sheep and the goats, he does so in terms of nations.  Of course, we don’t want to jettison the need for individual conversion and appearing before God, but the thrust of the passage seems to be on nations, not individual souls.   It’s only a small step from here to social covenanting.
  3. Isaiah 2 says we will know the kingdom is advancing because nations abide by God’s law.  (I challenged some Orthodox Bridge guys on God’s law and they never really responded).  This is an epistemological argument:   we will know the kingdom is advancing because of the specific outward conditions (other things being equal, of course).
  4. North gives a detailed analysis of Isaiah 65:20. It is a spear-thrust through the heart of any form of amillennialism.

I don’t think North’s sanctions-eschatology full defeats all of historic premillennialism, but it does serve as a good platform.

Repost: John Knox and Modern Covenant Sanctions

From D. Ritchie’s blog:

John Knox on the modern applicability of the curses of the covenant

How the Lord threatened plague after plague, and ever the last to be the sorest, till finally he will consume realms and nations if they repent not, read chapter 26 of Leviticus, which chapter oft I have willed you to mark, as yet I do unfeignedly.  And think not that it appertaineth to the Jews only.  No, brethren; the prophets are the interpreters of the law, and they make the plagues of God common to all offenders, the punishment ever beginning at the house-hold of God. […]

The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, after they had proclaimed plagues to fall upon the people of Israel, and upon the house of Judah, prophesy particularly against certain nations and cities, nor only adjacent in circuit about Jerusalem, but also against such as were far distant; as against Moab, Ammon, Palestine, Egypt, Tyre, Damascus, and Babylon (Isa. 13; 15; 17; 18; 19; 20; 23; Jer. 59; 51; Ezek. 25; 26; 27).  And in conclusion, general prophecies are spoken against all inobedient and sinful nations, as in chapter 24 of Isaiah plainly appeareth; as also, the Lord commanding Jeremiah to give the cup of his wrath to all nations, one after another; who should drink of the same, although they refused it of his hand (Jer. 25): that is, albeit they would not believe the voice of the prophet, yet should they not escape the plagues that he spoke: ‘For every nation like unto this, shall I punish, saith the Lord of Hosts’ (Jer. 5).  With the same agreeth Amos, saying, ‘The eyes of the Lord are upon every sinful nation, to root it out of the earth’ (Amos 9).  These, and many more places, evidently prove, that the plagues spoken of in the law of God, appertain to every rebellious people, be they Jew or be they Gentile, Christians in title, or Turks in profession.  And the ground of the prophets was the same, which before I have rehearsed for my assurances that England shall be plagued; which is, God’s immutable and inviolable justice, that cannot spare in one realm and nation, those offences that most severely he hath punished in another: for so were he unequal, and to make differences, as touching execution of his just judgments betwixt person and person; which is most contrarious to the integrity of his justice.

John Knox, ‘Letter to the faithful in England’ in R. S. Candlish (ed.), Select practical writings of John Knox (1845; Edinburgh, 2011), pp 31-2.