The Civil Magistrate’s Duty to Punish Sins Against the Moral Law | George Gillespie

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Wholesome Severity Reconciled with Christian Liberty

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 [ie. General Equity]: but not to those things which are mutable, or proper to the Jewish Republic [ie. Particular Equity]. 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.

(1.) If it were not so, then it is free and arbitrary to the Magistrate to appoint what punishments he pleases. But this is not arbitrary to him, for he is the minister of God, (Rom. 13:4) and the judgment is the Lord’s (Deut. 1:7; 2 Chron. 19:6). And if the Magistrate is keeper of both tables, he must keep them in such manner as God has delivered them to him.

(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.

(4.) If God would have the moral law transmitted from the Jewish people to the Christian people; then he would also have the judicial laws transmitted from the Jewish Magistrate to the Christian Magistrate: there being the same reason of immutability in the punishments, which is in the offenses. Idolatry and adultery displease God now as much as then; and theft displeases God now no more than before.

(5.) Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning (Rom. 15:4), and what shall the Christian Magistrate learn more from those judicial laws, but the will of God to be his rule in like cases? The ceremonial law was written for our learning, that we might know the fulfilling of all those types, but the judicial law was not typical.

(6.) Do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31; Matt. 5:16). How shall Christian Magistrates glorify God more than by observing God’s own laws, as most just, and such as they cannot make better?

(7.) Whatsoever is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). Now when the Christian Magistrate punishes sins against the moral law, if he does this in faith and in assurance of pleasing God, he must have his assurance from the Word of God, for faith can build upon no other foundation; it is the Word which must assure the conscience: God has commanded such a thing, therefore it is my duty to do it; God has not forbidden such a thing; therefore I am free to do it. But the will of God concerning civil justice and punishments is no where so fully and clearly revealed as in the judicial law of Moses. This therefore must be the surest prop and stay to the conscience of the Christian Magistrate.

These are not my reasons (if it be not a word or two added by way of explaining and strengthening), but the substance of Piscator’s reasons. Unto which I add, 1. Though we have clear and full scriptures in the New Testament for abolishing the ceremonial law, yet we no where read in all the New Testament of the abolishing of the judicial law, so far as it did concern the punishing of sins against the moral law, of which heresy and seducing of souls is one, and a great one. Once God did reveal his will for punishing those sins by such and such punishments. He who will hold that the Christian Magistrate is not bound to inflict such punishments for such sins, is bound to prove that those former laws of God are abolished, and to show some Scripture for it.

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