George Smeaton on the importance of the Old Testament to the Reformed doctrine of establishment

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Reformed Covenanter

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Unless men are content, as Sectaries commonly are, to have recourse to the position that the question cannot be elucidated from the Old Testament but must be discussed on the narrowed basis of the Gospels and Epistles, where, from the nature of the case, there is no occasion to introduce the subject of national Christianity, few will be able to resist the force of Dr M'Crie's proof [of the establishment principle].

George Smeaton, preface to Thomas McCrie, Statement of the Difference Between the Profession of the Reformed Church of Scotland, as Adopted by Seceders, and the Profession Contained in the New Testimony and other Acts, Lately Adopted by the General Associate Synod; Particularly, on the Power of Civil Magistrates Respecting Religion, National Reformation, National Churches, and National Covenants (1807; Edinburgh: C. F. Lyon, 1871), xi (emphasis added).
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
Another useful observation from the same source:

They [Thomas McCrie and the Original Seceders] maintained, that no permission has been given to any of the Lord's disciples to break any of the least of His commandments, and to teach men so. The momentous topic of national religion was as worthy, they considered, to be contended for as any other important truth. They held that it directly bore on the honour of Christ.

George Smeaton, preface to Thomas McCrie, Statement of the Difference Between the Profession of the Reformed Church of Scotland, as Adopted by Seceders, and the Profession Contained in the New Testimony and other Acts, Lately Adopted by the General Associate Synod; Particularly, on the Power of Civil Magistrates Respecting Religion, National Reformation, National Churches, and National Covenants (1807; Edinburgh: C. F. Lyon, 1871), xx.
 

Seeking_Thy_Kingdom

Puritan Board Sophomore
As I follow along with your posts I have a question, do you believe that the Scottish Covenanters where a type of prototypical Theonomists?

Also, I would like to add that your blog has been a daily read for me for the last few years, I greatly appreciate your time and effort.
 

Reformed Covenanter

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As I follow along with your posts I have a question, do you believe that the Scottish Covenanters where a type of prototypical Theonomists?

Yes and no. There are many similarities between the Covenanters and the modern Theonomists on the penal sanctions. The earlier writers, however, had a more sophisticated understanding of the continuity and discontinuity in relation to the Mosaic judicials than what you find in modern Theonomic writings along with a solid grasp of the importance of natural law, which enabled them to distinguish between what was of common and particular equity in the judicial law.

The modern Theonomists are to be commended for trying to get us back to a more confessional understanding of these things, but also criticised for falling short on natural law, the first table of the Decalogue, the establishment principle, and the paternalistic nature of civil government.

Also, I would like to add that your blog has been a daily read for me for the last few years, I greatly appreciate your time and effort.

Thanks for the encouragement, brother. I am sorry that it was off-line for a while and that I have only been regularly posting again since last August. It helps me to keep a record of material that I am reading and also ensured that I did not "waste" the interesting stuff that I came across while a PhD student/junior academic, but was not immediately relevant to my research.
 

Seeking_Thy_Kingdom

Puritan Board Sophomore
I see, I am sympathetic to Theonomy mainly because of the failure of our current system of government (speaking of the U.S) on major moral issues like abortion and same sex marriage. It is hard to deny that under a form of Theonomy, that I believe still needs to be properly and accurately defined, these ungodly practices would simply not be possible.

The modern Theonomists are to be commended for trying to get us back to a more confessional understanding of these things
And yet they are not and are sharply criticized by even some of the most confessional Reformed minds like Dr Scott Clark. My belief is that a Theonomy would be in the best interest of all people, believing or not, but it is hard to imagine how it would be implemented on such a rebellious people.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
I see, I am sympathetic to Theonomy mainly because of the failure of our current system of government (speaking of the U.S) on major moral issues like abortion and same sex marriage. It is hard to deny that under a form of Theonomy, that I believe still needs to be properly and accurately defined, these ungodly practices would simply not be possible.


And yet they are not and are sharply criticized by even some of the most confessional Reformed minds like Dr Scott Clark. My belief is that a Theonomy would be in the best interest of all people, believing or not, but it is hard to imagine how it would be implemented on such a rebellious people.

In the current climate, no form of establishment and/or theonomy (small or big "T") is going to be set up in the USA or the UK. In relation to the evils of abortion and same-sex "marriage", since they are against reason, nature, and common sense, we can argue against them with unbelieving neighbours and politicians on the basis of reason, nature, and common sense.
 

Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
The modern Theonomists are to be commended for trying to get us back to a more confessional understanding of these things, but also criticised for falling short on natural law, the first table of the Decalogue, the establishment principle, and the paternalistic nature of civil government.
What is it in the theonomic system that keeps them from those things??
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
What is it in the theonomic system that keeps them from those things??

That is a rather big question to answer. What you have to remember is that modern Theonomy emerged out of Kuyperianism (as opposed to classical two kingdoms), Van Tillian Presuppositionalism (as opposed to natural theology and Common Sense Realism), American Voluntaryism (as opposed to establishmentarianism; the former was always weaker on the civil application of the first table, except perhaps on the Sabbath), and a commitment to small government fundamentalism and Austrian economics.

Moreover, the Biblicism of modern evangelicalism and especially fundamentalism's disputes with liberalism meant that they elevated special revelation to such an extent that they tended to forget about natural law. When you either do not have or have not properly understood the category of natural law, it is difficult to fully understand the three-fold division of the law. The Lex Triplex operates on the basis that God's law may be divided into natural and positivistic elements. If you do not grasp this point, you are going to run into problems when it comes to determining which laws oblige all men everywhere.

As a result of this fault, there is a tendency to see all law as positivistic (a law obliges simply because God commands it as in the ceremonial laws, rather than being moral in and of itself like the Decalogue) and hence you end up with the absurdity of some Theonomists denying that the Sabbath is part of the moral law.

Thankfully, the more confessionally-orientated theonomists did not fall into this mistake, so we do not paint with too broad a brush, yet the more Rushdoony-influenced were especially prone to these errors. Indeed, one recent Theonomic writer even argued that the seventh-commandment is off limits to the magistrate in the New Testament. If they understood the concept of the law of nature, they could easily avoid such errors.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
@Jeri Tanner - another point worth considering is that many of the early proponents of modern theonomy did not have access to the sources pertaining to Reformed scholasticism that are now easily available to us on the internet. People often accuse them of being too influenced by Abraham Kuyper and Cornelius Van Til (I grant the point), yet, in fairness, there was not anything like the number of sources easily available back in the '60s and '70s which are now available at the touch of a button. Francis Turretin's Institutes were not even translated into English until 1992. Even many "Puritan" and Covenanter writings, other than those reprinted by Banner of Truth, were only available to those with access to research libraries until the dawn of the internet.
 
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Jeri Tanner

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@Jeri Tanner - another point worth considering is that many of the early proponents of modern theonomy did not have access to the sources pertaining to Reformed scholasticism that are now easily available to us on the internet. People often accuse them of being too influenced by Abraham Kuyper and Cornelius Van Til (I grant the point), yet, in fairness, there was not anything like the number of sources easily available back in the '60s and 70s which are now available at the touch of a button. Francis Turretin's Institutes were not even translated into English until 1992. Even many "Puritan" and Covenanter writings, other than those reprinted by Banner of Truth, were only available to those with access to research libraries until the dawn of the internet.
So a better understanding of Reformed scholasticism tempered some of the errors and excesses of early modern theonomy? What should a modern theonomist call himself now? Is correct ‘’theonomy’ simply having a biblical view of how general equity applies in God’s Law, as taught by the Reformers and Puritans? Thanks so much for the interaction.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
So a better understanding of Reformed scholasticism tempered some of the errors and excesses of early modern theonomy?

That would be how I see things, yes.

What should a modern theonomist call himself now? Is correct ‘’theonomy’ simply having a biblical view of how general equity applies in God’s Law, as taught by the Reformers and Puritans?

As to the second question, again, that would be how I see things. If someone asks me, "Are you a theonomist?" I usually answer by saying that I believe whatever in the judicial law is of common equity, agreeing with natural/moral law, continues. If I am feeling mischievous, which is 99% of the time, I usually conclude by saying that I am a Diet Theonomist (as in Diet Coke). Someone must have put too much sugar in R. J. Rushdoony and Gary North for my liking. :lol:
 

Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
That would be how I see things, yes.



As to the second question, again, that would be how I see things. If someone asks me, "Are you a theonomist?" I usually answer by saying that I believe whatever in the judicial law is of common equity, agreeing with natural/moral law, continues. If I am feeling mischievous, which is 99% of the time, I usually conclude by saying that I am a Diet Theonomist (as in Diet Coke). Someone must have put too much sugar in R. J. Rushdoony and Gary North for my liking. :lol:
Ha! Good one- Thanks Daniel.
 
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