Rutherford, Resistance, and Reductios

Every time (ignore the Chris Rock/Michael Scott echoes) I defend traditional Reformed ethics, Reformed people get angry with the implications of what they actually believe.  The following is from Samuel Rutherford.  Remember, the Reformed Statist says that everything the State says we should do, we should do. Rutherford is arguing on the basis of reductios:  showing the logical absurdity inherent in a position:

And shall it excuse the estates, to say, we could not judge the cause of the poor, nor crush the priests of Baal, and the idolatrous mass-prelates, because the king forbade us? So might the king break up the meeting of the lords of session, when they were to decern that Naboth’s vineyard should be restored to him, and hinder the states to repress tyranny; and this were as much as if the states should say, We made this man our king, and with our good-will we agree he shall be a tyrant. For if God gave it to him as a king, we are to consent that he enjoy it. (97)

But the conclusion is absurd, and denied by royalists. I prove the connection: If the king have such a power above all restraint, the power itself, to wit, king David’s power to kill innocent Uriah, and deflower Bathsheba, without the accident of being restrained or punished by men, it is either from God or not from God. If it be from God, it must be a power against the sixth and seventh commandments, which God gave to David, and not to any subject; and so David lied when he confessed this sin, and this sin cannot be pardoned because it was no sin: and kings, because kings, are under no tie of duties of mercy, and truth, and justice to their subjects, contrary to that which God’s law requireth of all judges (Deut. i. 15-17; xvii. 15-20; 2 Chron. xix. 6, 7; Rom. xiii. 3, 4): (103)

Whatever David did, though he was a king, he did it not as king; he deflowered not Bathsheba as king, and Bathsheba might with bodily resistance and violence lawfully have resisted king David, though kingly power remained in aim, while he should thus attempt to commit adultery; else David might have said to Bathsheba, “Because I am the Lord’s anointed, it is rebellion in thee, a subject, to oppose any bodily violence to my act of forcing of thee; it is unlawful to thee to cry for help, for if any shall offer violently to rescue thee from me, he resisteth the ordinance of God.” Subjection is due to Nero as an emperor, but not any subjection is due to him in the burning of Rome, and torturing of Christians, except you say that Nero’s power abused in these acts of cruelty was, 1. A power from God. 2. An ordidance of God. 3. That in these he was the minister of God for the good of the commonwealth. (149)

^This is the single most devastating reductio ever offered to Statism.  The statist must say at this point that Bathsheba should let David deflower her.  Note also Rutherford’s distinction on Nero:  The Reformed statist says the king is God’s minister.  Okay, is the burning of Christians God’s will for society?  Is that the king ministering for good?  If you say no, then you concede the point that the verse should be read as a prescription of God’s politics.  If you say yes, then you are insane.

Rutherford notes on p. 153 that on the Statist gloss, and in accordance with what Charles I wanted to do (e.g., hiring Irish Catholics to come and kill English Protestants), the English Protestants were obliged to lay down arms and let the Irish Catholics kill them.  This is a particularly troubling point for the statist:  he believes we should do whatever the state says do, but he also understands that we should defend national sovereignty against foreign invaders. At this point the statist worldview collapses.

In my copy of Lex, Rex I have about two dozen more pages indexed inside the front cover multiplying the arguments.   I won’t belabor the point, though.


4 comments on “Rutherford, Resistance, and Reductios

  1. Justin says:

    Most excellent. I linked to this post tonight; it covers an important subject that I have heard come up repeatedly.

  2. Justin says:

    I have a question for you (two, actually, one is unrelated to this post).

    1.) Certainly Rutherford was theonomic in his view of the state’s role and mandate. How would you compare/contrast his position to that of 2K / R2K? A well-known 2K advocate recently told me that Rutherford was closer to a 2K position than to a theonomic one. I am unsure, however, if by “theonomic,” he referred to the caricatured picture usually painted…

    2.) (off topic) Given your studies on the subject, can you recommend an audio series or book on the person and work of Christ / Christology? Does PRRD have quite a bit in it concerning this topic?

    Thanks for your time!

  3. 1) Rutherford had read and mastered all the great natural law theorists, Catholic, Reformed, and Arminian (Thomas, Saurez, Grotius). He saw no contradiction between these guys and biblical law. That’s why he is not a modern American Theonomist: the latter violently reject Thomas and Grotius.

    It depends on what we mean by 2k. If all we mean is that the magistrate can’t determine the church, nor the church the magistrate, then it’s hard to think of anyone outside the Anglican church who isn’t 2K.

    The modern 2K guys, by contrast, not only affirm different functions (king is king, not minister, etc) but also different governing norms (e.g., two different moral standards; bible can’t apply to civil realm). It’s hard to see Rutherford in that light, since he advocated hanging Jesuit spies on the basis of Dt 13!

    2) I’ll post something on Christology soon enough. try this in the mean time

    • Justin says:

      1.) Re: Natural law- I need to read more on this. I have not even touched Thomas or Grotius. So many books, so little time…

      I would think (based on what I understand right now) that natural law would not (could not?) contradict biblical law. Perhaps NL is not complete, but it can’t contradict Scripture.

      Re: 2k- I affirm differing functions, but not different governing norms. You’re right; it’s hard to see SR in that light.

      2.) I can’t wait for your post on the subject. I think your experience and studies will make for a very well-thought out and grounded perspective. In the meantime, thanks for the link! I spend 1.5-2 hours/day driving to and from work. Squeezing in another book is sometimes hard, but I have quite a bit of time available for listening!


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