R.J. Rushdoony’s seminal work, The Institutes of Biblical Law, set forward a defense of God’s authority over the world, our responsibility in the world, in the abiding relevancy of God’s Law over all of life.

This series of outlines will start with Rushdoony’s introductory chapter the first volume of his institutes. The outlines are adapted from a study group I lead through the book.

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Introduction (pp 1-15)

Introductory comments

    • God’s Law is for man to govern to himself; the family, church, and state are secondary. As Rushdoony says it, “people…should…govern as well as be governed by it.” (pg. 1)
      • My examples: the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses for a whole nation; stipulations for the entire world delivered in commands to a single man and woman.
    • Regardless of the faithful execution of said presupposition, Christendom always viewed the Law as the shaper of society.
      • The quotes from the New Haven colony and Thomas Shepard exemplify this:
        • God’s Ten commandments, and their divine expositions in Scripture, were
        • The ceremonial law in its specifics is no longer binding in practice.
        • God’s Law guides the courts in the prosecution of criminals.
    • The validity of God’s law in every jurisdiction, or sphere, is necessitated by God’s unchanging nature.
      • “The strength of man is the absoluteness of his God.” (pg 2)
    • Ignorance of God’s Law proves ignorance towards God’s total revelation.

The Validity of Biblical Law

    • Antinomianism is the belief that Christians are free from the Law.
      • This view is due to a faulty understanding of “Dead to the law” (Galatians 2:19; Romans 7:4):
        • We are alive in Christ but dead to the indictment or curse of the law. (the redemptive comparison)
        • We are free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2), which was the Law’s curse, and we are now empowered to fulfill the Law (Romans 8:4). (the ethical comparison)
    • There is one God, and therefore one Law.
      • It is judgment, curse, and death for God’s enemies, but sustenance, blessing, and life for the righteous (both righteous in Christ and conduct).
    • The centrality of the Law in spiritual life:
      • The fall: our sentence of death
      • Redemption: Jesus fulfilled the law so that we would receive His righteousness and fulfilled the Law so that He would be the perfect sacrifice to take our sin.
      • Sanctification: the curriculum by which, and to which, we are conformed.
    • Scriptures’ unfolding Covenants and Law
      • God commanded man to take dominion over the world as his representative (Genesis 1:28).
        • My examples: classifying and understanding the nature of God’s creation (Adam’s naming of the animals), improving God’s good creation (tending/serving and protecting the garden), marriage, children, etc.
      • Man took things into his own hands sought out autonomous (without God) and humanistic (man-centered) law and jurisdiction (Genesis 3:5).
      • Through successive and linked covenants, God re-establishes His Kingdom and terms (with Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Israel).
        • “The law, as given through Moses, established the laws of godly society, of true development for man under God, and the prophets repeatedly recalled Israel to this purpose.” (pg 3)
      • Christ is the great Restorer of Kingdom, Covenant, and Law.
        • As the new/second Adam, Christ came to fulfill and renew the creation mandate (1 Corinthians 15:45).
        • The purpose of Christ atoning us is that “the law might be fulfilled in us” (Romans 8:4).
      • The Law, and its Giver, have always been the issue throughout redemptive history.
        • My note: The teleology of God’s unfolding redemption throughout the pages of Scripture has always been towards the restoration of humanity to God’s Law. Since the Law is a transcript of God’s character, a restoration to His Law is a restoration to Himself. 
      • Covenant Law is the context of man:
        • “Man’s justification is by the grace of God in Jesus Christ; man’s sanctification is by means of the law of God.” (pg 4)
        • “The determination of man and of history is from God, but the reference of God’s law is to this world.” (pg 4)
      • Lawless Christianity is anti-Christian.

The Law as Revelation and Treaty

    • Law is religious.
      • It establishes good and bad, justice and oppression, righteousness and wickedness.
      • It is the practical expression of a culture’s ultimate concern.
    • Rushdoony highlights 5 “fundamental premises” to study God’s Law.
      • As mentioned above, all law is religious.
      • The source, determiner, or giver of law in a society is its god.
        • If it is rationalism or man’s reason, then man is god.
        • “If the source is an oligarchy, or in a court, senate, or ruler, then that source is the god of that system.” (pg 5)
          • Greek culture highlighted this in that they discovered the law in man’s mind. This created a hatred for the material because the self-discovered mind gave the ideals, leading to hostility towards revealed ethics outside of man.
        • Primarily and overtly evident in our time today, the law is located in the State. The state becomes god.
      • A societal change of law is a societal change of religion.
        • Legal revolution is birthed from religious transformation.
      • With the three points above, it is clear that religion is inseparable from religion. Or, as Rushdoony puts it, religion cannot be disestablished.
        • Churches and specific religions can be disestablished, but their religious nature cannot be removed.
      • A law system won’t tolerate a new religion.
        • “Toleration is a device used to introduce a new law system as a prelude to a new intolerance. Legal positivism, a humanistic faith, has been savage in its hostility to the Biblical law system and has claimed to be an “open” system.” (pg 6)
          • Crying for toleration is both a tactic of revolutionaries and suicidal allowance for a current system’s religious nature (determined by law-source).
    • Rushdoony then moves to point out the nature of biblical law.
      • Law is revealed.
        • Torah means instruction, “authoritative direction.”
          • It includes Mosaic Law (Ten Commandments and case laws) but is the totality of God’s words of instruction.
          • See the quoted section in the middle of pg 6.
        • Law is the revelation of God and His righteousness.
          • Grace is not strictly an NT reality nor law OT.
            • “Divine grace and mercy are the presupposition of law in the OT; and the grace and love of God displayed in the NT events issue in the legal obligations of the New Covenant…Paul’s polemics against the law in Galatians and Romans are directed against an understanding of law which is by no means characteristic of the OT as a whole.” (quoting W.J. Harrelson, pg 7)
          • The often assumed dialectical tension or contradiction between law and grace is fabricated.
            • Rushdoony points to the tension in James’ letter. The stress was over who is the mediator between God and man and the world—two opposing views of the law. Christ is the only mediator, and even the law is rejected in this matter.
            • Jesus, the most gracious man, sought to fulfill or establish the law, not destroy it.
          • The historical consequence of Christ’s work is the removal of the Pharisees as the interpreters of the Law, but the Law remains (Matthew 23:1-3)
            • The NT writers point out which specific laws are not required. Otherwise, they are valid.
      • Biblical law is a treaty or covenant.
        • Law was given with historical prologue, commitments to the greater party, sanctions (blessings and curses), and regulations for succession. God’s Law is both a treaty-covenant.
        • The summary of the treaty-covenant was the Ten Commandments, and both parties (Israel and God) received a copy.
          • “Not law, but covenant. That must be affirmed when we are seeking a category comprehensive enough to do justice to this revelation in its totality. At the same time, the prominence of the stipulations, reflected in the fact that “the ten words” are the element used as pars pro toto, signalizes the centrality of law in this type of covenant. There is probably no clearer direction afforded the biblical theologian for defining with biblical emphasis the type of covenant God adopted to formalize his relationship to his people than that given in the covenant he gave Israel to perform, even “the ten commandments.” Such a covenant is a declaration of God’s lordship, consecrating a people to himself in a sovereignly dictated order of life.” (quoting Meredith G. Kline, pg 8)
            • The Law understood as a covenant given, which includes election and adoption, is not only a “sovereignly dictated order of life,” but an invitation into a gracious relationship with Yahweh (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; 8:18; 9:4-6).
        • God’s treaty-covenant orders both the inner and outer life of man.
      • Biblical law is the blueprint for taking dominion under God.
        • “…the picture suggested would be that of Christ’s children (cf. 2:13) inheriting his universal dominion as their eternal portion (note 9:15b; cf. also 1:14; 2:5ff.; 6:17; 11:7ff.). And such is the wonder of the messianic Mediator-Testator that the royal inheritance of his sons, which becomes of force only through his death, is nevertheless one of co-regency with the living Testator! For (to follow the typological direction provided by Heb. 9:16, 17 according to the present interpretation) Jesus is both dying Moses and succeeding Joshua. Not merely after a figure but in truth a royal Mediator redivivus, he secures the divine dynasty by succeeding himself in resurrection power and ascension glory.” (quoting Kline, pg 9)
          • The renewal of this covenant was the Lord’s Supper. “The people of the law are now the people of Christ, the believers redeemed by His atoning blood and called by His sovereign election.” (pg 9)
          • Dominion is the privilege of the regenerate.
        • It is a deadly thought that we might choose our ethical code.
          • Rushdoony points out Calvin’s classical humanism, evident in his common, or natural law, of nations. Calvin, although brilliant, still missed that the laws of nations at his time were still formed in part by God’s Law. The Roman portion of “common law” grew in imminence. There went Calvin’s hope and effort to establish Christian religion.
          • Many authors, to this day, follow in the classical humanism of the reformers. They claim the magistrate is God’s servant for good but excuse them from operating according to God’s standards of good and justice.
          • Some even see a “static,” or transcendent, law over every nation for all time as an impossibility.
          • Natural law is a misnomer, for there isn’t a law in nature, but over nature.
        • “Neither positive law nor natural law can reflect more than the sin and apostasy of man: revealed law is the need and privilege of Christian society. It is the only means whereby man can fulfil his creation mandate of exercising dominion under God. Apart from revealed law, man cannot claim to be under God but only in rebellion against God.”

The Direction of the Law

    • Broad premises or principles are declared.
      • These can be called basic law, such as the Ten Commandments.
        • They are the laws that all other laws are specific examples and applications.
      • Rushdoony focuses on the basic law of “Thou shalt not steal.”
        • Positively, it establishes private property. Negatively, it establishes “punishes offenses against property.”
          • This basic law establishes and protects a key area of life.
        • Private property finds its establishment in God.
        • Any offense against this law, regardless of a nation’s legislation, is an offense against God.
          • All lawbreaking is entirely against God (Psalm 51:4)
        •  “…lawlessness is also sin, i.e., that any civil, familial, ecclesiastical, or other social act of disobedience is also a religious offense unless the disobedience is required by the prior obedience to God.” (pg 11)
    • A large portion of Biblical law is case law or specific examples of the basic laws.
      • These case laws are usually minimal or small-scale cases.
        • These smaller cases that build on, illustrate, or explain the basic laws also set the proper jurisdictions of said law.
        • Scripture gives us its interpretation of Biblical law. Rushdoony looks at one of Scripture’s basic laws, then a case law, and finally, Paul’s application of said basic and case law.
          • Basic law: “Thou shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15).
          • Case law: The ox should be allowed to feed while working (Deuteronomy 25:4).
          • Pauline application: Just as the ox should eat while they work, so should the one who labors in the gospel be paid (1 Corinthians 9:1-14).
            • “These two passages illustrate the requirement, “Thou shalt not steal,” in terms of a specific case law, revealing the extent of that case in its implications. In his epistle to Timothy, Paul refers also to the law which in effect declares, by case law, that “The labourer is worthy of his reward.” The reference is to Leviticus 19:13, “Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning,” and Deuteronomy 24:14, “Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates (cf. v. 15).” This is cited by Jesus, Luke 10:7, “The laborer is worthy of his hire.”” (pg 12)
            • If it is a sin to defraud an ox, it is a sin to defraud the wages of others (whether employee, employer, or preacher). It’s theft.
        • The sinfulness of theft against creature and neighbor also reinforces the wickedness of stealing from God (Malachi 3:8-12).
      • Case law is necessary, as can be deduced from Rushdoony’s example.
        • Without case law, God’s law is reduced to “limited areas of meaning.”
          • It is common for those who affirm “Thou shall not steal” to limit the definition of theft. And so, sin abounds.
    • Biblical law is oriented towards the restitution of God’s order.
      • Humanistic law is subjective and oftentimes emotional in defining justice.
        • If there is restitution, it is entirely focused on the restoration to man and not God.
      • Restitution in biblical law is:
        • Required by all offenders in the courts.
        • Restorative to God’s order.
        • Present in the sovereign courts of God.
          • It curses disobedience and limits the damage done to godly social orders.
          • It blesses obedient restitution.
            • The example from Malachi is pertinent, for offenders are “cursed with a curse” due to robbing God’s tithes.
              • “Therefore, their fields are not productive, since they work against God’s restitutive purpose. Obedience to God’s law of the tithe, honoring instead of robbing God, will deluge His people with blessings. The word “deluge” is appropriate: the expression “open …the windows of heaven” recalls the Flood (Gen. 7:11), which was a central example of a curse. But the purpose of curses is also restitution: the curse prevents the ungodly from overthrowing God’s order. The men of Noah’s generation were destroyed in their evil imaginations, as they conspired against God’s order (Gen. 6:5), in order to institute the process of restoration through Noah.” (pp 13-14)
        • We see the principle of restitution and “Thou shall not steal” with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:2-9)
          • He extorted unjust taxation from others.
          • After meeting Jesus, he declares his intention to make restitution.
          • That is when he is declared “saved” by Jesus Christ.
        • The principle of restitution brings clarity to Matthew 5:23-26.
        • Restitution is seen in Ephesians 4:28.
          • “In Eph. iv. 28, St. Paul shows how the principle of restitution was to be extended. He who had been a robber must not only cease from theft, but must labour with his hands that he might restore what he had wrongfully taken away, but in case those whom he had wronged could not be found, restitution should be made to the poor.” (quoting John Henry Blunt, pg 14)
      • Restitution relates to God in three ways.
        • Restitution/restoration of God’s order through God’s word proclaimed. God’s word brings life to His people.
          • The ministry of John the Baptist is a prime example (Matthew 17:11-12).
        • Restitution/restoration of God’s order through Christ subjecting or putting under His feet all things, establishing godly order throughout the world (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Revelation 11:15).
        • Restitution/restoration of God’s order through the second physical coming of Jesus Christ.
          • “the total, final restoration which comes with the second coming, and towards which history moves; the second coming is the total and culminating rather than sole act of “the times of restitution” (Acts 3:21).” (pg 14)
      • God made man to order the world by taking dominion over it while remaining under God’s authority.
        • This is the covenant reality of man (Hosea 6:7).
        • This covenant relationship between God and man, broken by Adam, is restored (restitution) by the work of Christ.
          • The terms of the covenant relationship are the Great Commission.
          • This is the renewal of the creation mandate.
            • The tool of this mandate is God’s Law.

Summary

God’s Law in the New Covenant administration is valid, a revelatory treaty, universal in its scope, imminent in its judicial casuistry, and eschatologically directed towards the victory of God’s kingdom.