Best Resources on General Equity

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KMK

Administrator
Staff member
Besides Calvin's commentary, what are the best resources on the general equity of OT judicial law?
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
I can't think of any full-length treatments off the top of my head, but the following might help.
https://heidelblog.net/2018/02/william-perkins-on-general-equity/
https://heidelblog.net/2018/09/james-ussher-on-general-equity/

I. As the ceremonial law was concerned with God, the political was concerned with the neighbor.

II. In those matters on which it is in harmony with the moral law and with ordinary justice, it is binding upon us.

III. In those matters which were peculiar to that law and were prescribed for the promised land or the situation of the Jewish state, it has not more force for us than the laws of foreign commonwealths.

Johannes Wollebius, Compendium theologiae christianae, 14.6 in Reformed Dogmatics, trans. John W. Beardslee III (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), 84.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
Get the book The Standard Bearer: A Festschrift for Greg L. Bahnsen. In it is an excellent article by Kenneth Gentry called "Theonomy and Confession," in which he goes into some detail as to what "general equity" in WCF 19.4 means.
 

Seeking_Thy_Kingdom

Puritan Board Sophomore
One of the problems in the theonomy debate on both sides is that we aren't Aristotelians and generally don't know what to do with 'equity.'
Is not the ‘general’ the greater issue? It sounds so intentionally vague, as if the Westminster Divines themselves were torn on the matter.
 

Andrew P.C.

Puritan Board Junior
The Confessional Presbyterian has a pretty lengthy (Two Part) writing on this topic. It’s found in the 5th Edition.

As for recommendations by theonomic sources (Bahnsen, North, Gentry), the article deals with their faulty views on “general Equity”.
 

Andrew P.C.

Puritan Board Junior
Here are some sources on what general equity is:


"Common and natural equity...[is]..written in the heart of man by nature" (Alexander Henderson, A sermon preached to the Honourable House of Commons At Their Solemn Fast, Dec. 27, 1643)

"Common equity..[is]..the principles of reason and nature" (Jus Divinum, 29-30)

General equity is "founded in the law of nature common to all nations" (Robert Shaw, Exposition on the Confession, Pg. 225)

General equity serves "to the maintenance of the Moral Law" (Jus Divinum, 29-30)

"That which we account moral, and to have a perpetual equity, is the substance of the [moral] Law" (William Gouge, A learned and very useful commentary on the whole epistle to the Hebrews, 170-171)
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Two sources are so closely linked to the Assembly, as I have shown in my historical piece on the Westminster Assembly and the judicial law, that they a primary sources as to their intent. That is Anthony Burges's Vindicae Legis, and the London Provincial Assembly's Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici. Below is what they saw in apply it to the subject of church polity, and the linked article has the Burges.
2. We answer, the laws of the Jewish church, whether ceremonial or judicial, so far forth are in force, even at this day, as they were grounded upon common equity, the principles of reason and nature, and were serving to the maintenance of the moral law. It is of eternal right that the party unjustly aggrieved should have redress, that the adverse party should not be sole judge and party too, that judgment ought not to be rashly or partially passed upon any. The Jewish polity is only abrogated in regard of what was in it of particular right, not of common right, so far as there was in their laws either a typicalness [typology] proper to their church, or a peculiarness [peculiarity] in respect to their state in that land of promise given unto them. What soever was in their laws of moral concern, or general equity is still obliging. What soever the Jewish church had not as Jewish, but as it was a political church, or an ecclesiastical republic (among which is the subordination of ecclesiastical courts to be reckoned) does belong to the Christian church: [such as] that all judgments were to be determined by an high priest was typical of Christ’s supremacy in judicature; but that there were gradual judicatories for the ease of an oppressed or grieved party. There can be no ceremony or type in this. This was not (said a learned author) learned by Moses in the pattern of the mount, but was taught by the light of nature to Jethro (Exod. 18:22) and by him given in advice to Moses. This did not belong unto the pédagogie of the Jews, but unto the good order of the church (said Gersom Bucerus). Text from the forthcoming Naphtali Press Special Editions edition of JDRE; can be found in part two chapter 15.​
 

KMK

Administrator
Staff member
I appreciate these suggestions. I am looking for resources that go into specifics of individual laws like Calvin does in his commentary.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
I'm surprised no one has mentioned Junius's The Mosaic Polity, which is a full length treatise on the general equity of the Mosaic law.
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
I'm surprised no one has mentioned Junius's The Mosaic Polity, which is a full length treatise on the general equity of the Mosaic law.
That was kind of a hard read for me. I had to call a lawyer friend to help me with some of the technical stuff I didn't know how to understand. I read the book and ended up giving it away to someone who could get a better grasp of it than I could.
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
Ron, What do you think of this piece. I read it and it appears he plays gymnastics with some of the vocabulary. For example he doesn't address the term diverse when the ceremonial law is concerned but he focuses on the word sundry when referring to the judicial law. Aren't diverse and sundry similar?

I really appreciate Calvin on this in Book 4 chapter 20 of the Institutes.


16. What I have said will become plain if we attend, as we ought, to two things connected with all laws—viz. the enactment of the law, and the equity on which the enactment is founded and rests. Equity, as it is natural, cannot be the same in all, and therefore ought to be proposed by all laws, according to the nature of the thing enacted. As constitutions have some circumstances on which they partly depend, there is nothing to prevent their diversity, provided they all alike aim at equity as their end. Now, as it is evident that the law of God which we call moral, is nothing else than the testimony of natural law, and of that conscience which God has engraven on the minds of men, the whole of this equity of which we now speak is prescribed in it. Hence it alone ought to be the aim, the rule, and the end of all laws. Wherever laws are formed after this rule, directed to this aim, and restricted to this end, there is no reason why they should be disapproved by us, however much they may differ from the Jewish law, or from each other (August. de Civit. Dei, Lib. 19 c. 17). The law of God forbids to steal. The punishment appointed for theft in the civil polity of the Jews may be seen in Exodus 22. Very ancient laws of other nations punished theft by exacting the double of what was stolen, while subsequent laws made a distinction between theft manifest and not manifest. Other laws went the length of punishing with exile, or with branding, while others made the punishment capital. Among the Jews, the punishment of the false witness was to “do unto him as he had thought to have done with his brothers” (Deu_19:19). In some countries, the punishment is infamy, in others, hanging; in others, crucifixion. All laws alike avenge murder with blood, but the kinds of death are different. In some countries, adultery was punished more severely, in others more leniently. Yet we see that amid this diversity they all tend to the same end. For they all with one mouth declare against those crimes which are condemned by the eternal law at God, viz., murder, theft, adultery, and false witness; though they agree not as to the mode of punishment. This is not necessary, nor even expedient. There may be a country which, if murder were not visited with fearful punishments, would instantly become a prey to robbery and slaughter. There may be an age requiring that the severity of punishments should be increased. If the state is in a troubled condition, those things from which disturbances usually arise must be corrected by new edicts. In time of war, civilisation would disappear amid the noise of arms, were not men overawed by an unwonted severity of punishment. In sterility, in pestilence, were not stricter discipline employed, all things would grow worse. One nation might be more prone to a particular vice, were it not most severely repressed. How malignant were it, and invidious of the public good, to be offended at this diversity, which is admirably adapted to retain the observance of the divine law. The allegation, that insult is offered to the law of God enacted by Moses, where it is abrogated and other new laws are preferred to it, is most absurd. Others are not preferred when they are more approved, not absolutely, but from regard to time and place, and the condition of the people, or when those things are abrogated which were never enacted for us. The Lord did not deliver it by the hand of Moses to be promulgated in all countries, and to be everywhere enforced; but having taken the Jewish nation under his special care, patronage, and guardianship, he was pleased to be specially its legislator, and as became a wise legislator, he had special regard to it in enacting laws.


https://rpcnacovenanter.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/john-calvin-on-civil-government-and-law/
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
I wonder who the author is. Also, he quotes Daniel Ritchie's book on theonomy but Daniel has subsequently retracted those views.
 

User20004000

Puritan Board Sophomore
Ron, What do you think of this piece. I read it and it appears he plays gymnastics with some of the vocabulary. For example he doesn't address the term diverse when the ceremonial law is concerned but he focuses on the word sundry when referring to the judicial law. Aren't diverse and sundry similar?

I really appreciate Calvin on this in Book 4 chapter 20 of the Institutes.


16. What I have said will become plain if we attend, as we ought, to two things connected with all laws—viz. the enactment of the law, and the equity on which the enactment is founded and rests. Equity, as it is natural, cannot be the same in all, and therefore ought to be proposed by all laws, according to the nature of the thing enacted. As constitutions have some circumstances on which they partly depend, there is nothing to prevent their diversity, provided they all alike aim at equity as their end. Now, as it is evident that the law of God which we call moral, is nothing else than the testimony of natural law, and of that conscience which God has engraven on the minds of men, the whole of this equity of which we now speak is prescribed in it. Hence it alone ought to be the aim, the rule, and the end of all laws. Wherever laws are formed after this rule, directed to this aim, and restricted to this end, there is no reason why they should be disapproved by us, however much they may differ from the Jewish law, or from each other (August. de Civit. Dei, Lib. 19 c. 17). The law of God forbids to steal. The punishment appointed for theft in the civil polity of the Jews may be seen in Exodus 22. Very ancient laws of other nations punished theft by exacting the double of what was stolen, while subsequent laws made a distinction between theft manifest and not manifest. Other laws went the length of punishing with exile, or with branding, while others made the punishment capital. Among the Jews, the punishment of the false witness was to “do unto him as he had thought to have done with his brothers” (Deu_19:19). In some countries, the punishment is infamy, in others, hanging; in others, crucifixion. All laws alike avenge murder with blood, but the kinds of death are different. In some countries, adultery was punished more severely, in others more leniently. Yet we see that amid this diversity they all tend to the same end. For they all with one mouth declare against those crimes which are condemned by the eternal law at God, viz., murder, theft, adultery, and false witness; though they agree not as to the mode of punishment. This is not necessary, nor even expedient. There may be a country which, if murder were not visited with fearful punishments, would instantly become a prey to robbery and slaughter. There may be an age requiring that the severity of punishments should be increased. If the state is in a troubled condition, those things from which disturbances usually arise must be corrected by new edicts. In time of war, civilisation would disappear amid the noise of arms, were not men overawed by an unwonted severity of punishment. In sterility, in pestilence, were not stricter discipline employed, all things would grow worse. One nation might be more prone to a particular vice, were it not most severely repressed. How malignant were it, and invidious of the public good, to be offended at this diversity, which is admirably adapted to retain the observance of the divine law. The allegation, that insult is offered to the law of God enacted by Moses, where it is abrogated and other new laws are preferred to it, is most absurd. Others are not preferred when they are more approved, not absolutely, but from regard to time and place, and the condition of the people, or when those things are abrogated which were never enacted for us. The Lord did not deliver it by the hand of Moses to be promulgated in all countries, and to be everywhere enforced; but having taken the Jewish nation under his special care, patronage, and guardianship, he was pleased to be specially its legislator, and as became a wise legislator, he had special regard to it in enacting laws.


https://rpcnacovenanter.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/john-calvin-on-civil-government-and-law/

I do think it deserves a seat at the table, at least for a time. I appreciate your “gymnastics” comment but part of that might be attributed to the fine distinctions the author tries to make. I think the major problem it has is lack of confessional footnotes for case laws under section 19.5. The confession catalogues those under 19.4, and they cover both classes of moral laws, ox treading types and capital punishment.

I think the real kicker is they cash out the same if the posited position would apply an equity principle to “common” moral laws, like murder. If he doesn’t apply an equity standard to those laws, then we are left with stoning, which rules out lethal injection.

I think the Confession supports the traditional view but that the law distinctions as set forth in the piece I shared are largely true. I just don’t think the confession was trying to get that specific.

At the end of the day, the Confession and Catechism clearly supports the theonomic position unless equity for capital punishment reduces to excommunication and we get rid of many passages in Isaiah, the psalms and even Jesus’ own words pertaining to rebellious children.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
I wonder who the author is. Also, he quotes Daniel Ritchie's book on theonomy but Daniel has subsequently retracted those views.

He cites me on a specific point relating to F. N. Lee's interpretation of WCF 19.4, which I would continue to support. To be honest, I think that F. N. Lee's view and the one that the author contrasts with it both essentially amount to the same thing in substance. While I repudiated Reconstructionism and Libertarian Theology, I have never repudiated everything associated with theonomy more narrowly considered. (I can live without the term theonomy, but, let us face reality, if most of us here were put on trial for being theonomists we would probably be found guilty as charged.)

The basic point is that the laws of common equity continue, whereas the laws of particular equity do not continue. This way of framing the argument avoids the confusion that inevitably arises from using terminology such as "The abiding validity of the law of God in exhaustive detail", which inevitably needs to die the death of a thousand qualifications (as John Frame so eloquently put it).

I know who the author is but he had his reasons for remaining anonymous.
 
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Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
I'm surprised no one has mentioned Junius's The Mosaic Polity, which is a full length treatise on the general equity of the Mosaic law.

I think that it is quoted somewhere in the blog category that I referenced above, but, yes, I was considering mentioning it by name before you beat me to it.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
Another good resource, which contains at least some discussion of the equity of specific judicial laws, is The Decades of Henry Bullinger. These were highly influential on English Reformed thought. I think I recall reading somewhere that Bullinger's writings actually outsold John Calvin in England at one point.
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
Daniel,

Help me clear up some of my thinking. I would consider myself a Theocrat over a Theonomist. Especially as it pertains to the specific case laws of Israel in the Judicial sense. I appreciate Calvin's take on this as it relates to how Nations dole out punishment differently than Israel was instructed to do. General equity is still served but the method of execution concerning punishment may differ from Nation to Nation.

I also think the Theonomist blurs too many of the distinctions between what is moral and what appears to be serving justice. Am I missing something?
 

KMK

Administrator
Staff member

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
Daniel,

Help me clear up some of my thinking. I would consider myself a Theocrat over a Theonomist. Especially as it pertains to the specific case laws of Israel in the Judicial sense. I appreciate Calvin's take on this as it relates to how Nations dole out punishment differently than Israel was instructed to do. General equity is still served but the method of execution concerning punishment may differ from Nation to Nation.

I also think the Theonomist blurs too many of the distinctions between what is moral and what appears to be serving justice. Am I missing something?

I have too many other Sabbath duties to attend to that do not permit me to reply at length just now. I may try to say more after church tonight or perhaps tomorrow.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
Another good resource, which contains at least some discussion of the equity of specific judicial laws, is The Decades of Henry Bullinger.

Yes, I found his seventh sermon in volume two of his Decades, entitled "Of the Judicial Laws of God," to be helpful.

These were highly influential on English Reformed thought. I think I recall reading somewhere that Bullinger's writings actually outsold John Calvin in England at one point.

I think I remember hearing from my church history professor in seminary, who is also a published Calvin scholar, that Bullinger's writings were a good deal more wide-reaching in influence than Calvin's was. That being said, Calvin's personal influence might have been greater, considering the theological prominence of Geneva and his constant personal correspondence with pastors and dignitaries all over the continent.
 

Regi Addictissimus

Completely sold out to the King
also a published Calvin scholar, that Bullinger's writings were a good deal more wide-reaching in influence than Calvin's was.

Bullinger's works did in fact outsell those of Calvin. William Perkin's works outsold those of Calvin, Beza, and Bullinger combined. Sorry to detract from the original topic at hand.
 
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