Saturday, February 11, 2017

CovenanterCast Episode 13 - The Christian Sabbath Part 2

Listen Now! | Subscribe via iTunes
Continuing our series on the subject of the Christian Sabbath, Part 2 provides our survey of Biblical texts on the Sabbath from the New Testament.

NOTE: An updated (version 2) of this podcast was uploaded on 2/18/2017 to correct a mistaken application of some factual information about the use of "sabbaton" in the New Testament. We sincerely apologize for any confusion caused by this.

Friday, December 30, 2016

CovenanterCast Episode 12 - The Christian Sabbath Part 1

Listen Now! | Subscribe via iTunes
Today we start a new series on the subject of the Christian Sabbath. Part 1 provides an introduction for the series and begins our survey of Biblical texts on the Sabbath with an overview of the Old Testament.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Twas the Night Before the Lord's Day

Twas the Night Before the Lord's Day
By Nick Schoeneberger

Twas the night before the Lord’s Day, when all through the house
Not a person was stirring, not even my spouse.
The church clothes were hung up in the closets with care,
In hopes that to church we’d arrive wrinkle-free there.

The children were bundled all snug in their beds,
While catechism and memory verses danced in their heads.
And wife in her gown, and I setting up the coffee,
Had just prayed for rest that we might worship attentively.

As a good Sabbatarian, I’ve gassed up the car,
No need to do business on Sunday if thoughtful you are.
The meals for tomorrow are cooked up and packed,
For fellowship lunch cannot be just snacks!

Six days we’ve been given for work and for play
But one day we’re commanded: Remember the Sabbath Day.
A magnificent grace that with creation He instilled,
That we might be blessed by His presence and thrilled.

To spend a whole day taken up with his glory
Seems a most generous gift to we sinful and ornery.
But that’s the love only the Father can give.
The kind that sacrifices only Son so that we may yet live.

So while we wait patiently until in glory He comes,
The precentor starts the tune with the bars that he hums.
We taste eternity with word, sacrament and prayer.
And rest in the promise that where we gather, he’s there.

After worship tomorrow, for week’s labor be prepared
For the sermon’s truth’s plain, the Gospel boldly been shared.
The dinner is eaten and the last Psalm’s been sung,
The sweetness of His Sabbath tasted by my own tongue.

Christian, the Sabbath is now and always was made for you,
To partake of Holy rest, Isaiah 56 does show that its true.
A blessing is found for the man lays hold of his covenant.
Even the stranger and his house if he keeps from polluting it.

To delight in the Lord and His Day is a tradition Apostolic.
So no need to fight saying, “that tradition’s just Mosaic!”
That in God’s moral law you’ll find the Sabbath, it's true
That remains for us a rest is chapter four of Hebrews.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Biblical Case For Puritan Postmillennialism

The following notes were taken while I listened to Rev. David Silversides' sermon Postmillennialism and Revelation 20. Rev Silversides presents various views on the Millennium by examining each in terms of how well it addresses key aspects of Biblical prophecy with special attention given to the binding and loosing of Satan and the impact on the spread of the Gospel.
Rev. Silversides is a pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland which is descended from the Scottish Covenanters. As most of the Covenanters also did, Rev. Silversides holds to what is known as the Historicist Postmillennial view of the Last Days. Rev. Silversides refers to it as the "orthodox Puritan form" of Postmillennialism because it was indeed held by many of the Puritans and is distinguished from 20th Century versions of Postmillennialism as you will discover.
I commend any reader who is interested in a full-orbed examination of Bible prophecies from the Historicist Postmillennial perspective to read the works of Dr. Francis Nigel Lee who has published numerous works (Revelation and Daniel are highly recommended) and has gracefully made them available online for free.
The Last Days (plural) is defined as the time from Christ's first coming until his Second Coming.
Heb 1:1-2
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
There are 7 visions of Revelation with increasing emphasis on what will take place at the VERY end (the last day) after which is the eternal state.
Why Premillennialism Must Be Rejected:
Premillennialism claims that Christ will come and visibly reign on earth for 1,000 years before the final judgment.
The only possible passage from which we might glean an earthly reign of Christ is 2 Thess 1:8-10
8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
10 When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.
However, this interpretation of the 2 Thess 1 passage is problematic since the Scriptures teach that Christ's return is a single event at the very end accompanied by the Resurrection and Judgment, so this cannot be interpreted with a Premillennial view as seen in the following passages:
John 5:
28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
Acts 2:
34 For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,
35 Until I make thy foes thy footstool.
Notice that the victory of Christ over His foes is clearly not complete at His return in the Premillennial view.
Christ in fact remains at the right hand of power until the restitution of all things - the fullness of the Gentiles and the Jews being grafted back onto the root which the Gentiles are engrafted (Romans 11):
Acts 3:
19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.
20 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you:
21 Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.
Instead of  a Premillennial return, Christ must remain at the right hand of the Father until the fulfillment of the great prophecy of victory in verse 25 below:
1 Cor 15:23
23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
The reign that is at the right hand of the Father.
John 6:
39 And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.
The "last day" is the day after which there will be no more days but only the eternal state (WCF Ch. 33).
And here, quoting Dr. Silversides, is a thorough condemnation of the error of the Premillennial view:
"Premillennialism proposes a glorified Christ and glorified saints in the midst of a fallen world and an unrenewed earth. The same glorified Christ who caused an unglorified John to fall to his feet as one who is dead (Rev 1:17)! For Christ to dwell in a world where sin still exists unjudged and unpunished would involve a measure of humiliation for the Lord Jesus Christ and that is unthinkable! Christ's humiliation is finished and he is exalted to the right hand of God. There will be no humiliation again for the redeemer! And when he comes, it will be to judge the world in righteousness and to put all contradiction of his sovereign majestic claims eternally to an end."
Why Amillennialism Must Be Rejected:
Amillennialism, or perhaps more literally, Non-millennialism claims there is no literal or figurative millennialism. No time has been appointed by God when his blessings will be on the earth other than the New Testament age as a whole. No unprecedented abundance of the Spirit of God will be outpoured.
We reject Amillennialism for the following five reasons:
1) The binding of Satan: The binding of Satan does not refer to Christ accomplishing redemption on the cross. The reason is that Rev 20:3,7 "and after that he must be loosed a little season." also, "And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison" and therefore the binding of Satan is reversed for a time but the redemptive work of the cross can never be reversed. Christ's triumph is irreversible. If the binding is followed by a loosing, it cannot fit the work of the cross.
The binding of Satan can't be marked at Pentecost either which cannot be reversed. The greater presence of the Spirit than in the Old Testament Church and its effects will never be eradicated.
The binding and loosing of Satan instead refers to a variation in the degree of the application of redemption among men by the spirit of God acting in the hearts of the elect. Not in redemption accomplished, but in the degree of effectiveness of the preaching of the Gospel.
2) The 1,000 years does not represent the New Testament age as a whole. There are no grounds for starting the 1,000 years in the New Testament because they do not start at the cross. Additionally, this 1,000 years ends BEFORE the end: Rev 20:3,7 again.  So it doesn't end at Christ's second coming. So the millennium cannot represent the whole New Testament age.
3) The reigning with Christ does not refer to the heavenly intermediate state of the saints who are with Christ from their death until the second coming because this reign ends BEFORE the end which inaugurates the eternal state.
Rev 20:4,7
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
This reign does not last until the last day and therefore cannot refer to the intermediate state of believers in heaven awaiting resurrection.
Neither  does it represent regeneration which is permanent.
4) The first resurrection is not the entry of the believer into glory at death. Rev 20:4-5, this resurrection leads to something that ends with Satan's little season coming in.
Rev 20:5
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
5) The second resurrection mentioned in v.5 is not the resurrection of the body.
1. It applies only to the rest, not the all - it is therefore not descriptive of general resurrection
2. Something analogous to the first resurrection - these live not until the end of the 1,000 years
3. It does not take place at the last day:  "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished" which is before Satan's little season. Bodily resurrection takes place only at the last day.
Amillennialism fails because it doesn't deal properly with Satan's little season which must come after the 1,000 years.
Why Rushdoony's Postmillennialism Must Be Rejected:
In contrast to Historicist Postmillennialism, Rushdoony's flavor of Postmillennialism is essentially the same as Amillennialism except for the reigning with Christ is applied to the overall progress and triumph of the Gospel throughout the NT age.
In this scheme, the 1,000 years and Satan's little season are not periods of time but are figurative periods representing the relative triumph of the Gospel and the futility of Satan's resistance. The time periods are merely symbolic of the relative strength of the Gospel vs. Satan's resistance to it. It is a pattern of overall advance of the Gospel from Christ's first to second coming.
However, In Revelation, symbolic periods of time are symbolic of REAL periods of time. The quantity of time is symbolic but it is still referring to time periods that exist or will exist.  Because the Postmillennialism of Rushdoony borrows the non-millennial view of the periods represented in Biblical prophecy, it must ultimately also be rejected.
Why Orthodox Puritan (Historicist) Postmillennialism Must Be Accepted:
Puritan Postmillennialism posits that Christ comes after a millennial period of great blessing and advance of the truth and the Gospel.
Why does Puritan Postmillennialism best explain Biblical prophecy?
1) The binding of Satan must refer to the progress of the Gospel because it is reversible. The advance of the Gospel is subject to divinely ordained ebbs and flows. The presence of periods of revival in the history of the church supports this understanding.
2) The 1,000 years must refer to a period of great Gospel advance.
It does not represent the whole New Testament age. It is a comparatively long period which precedes a comparatively short period in which Satan is loosed again for a season and then we have the last day before the eternal state.
It is an appointed and complete period of time (10 x 10 x 10 indicates a prolonged period of time), when Satan's opposition to the Gospel is limited and coincides with the reign of the saints and comes after many have been martyred for the name of Jesus (Rev 20:4).
It ends before the close of the New Testament age (Rev 20:3,7).
3) The reign of Christ refers to the glorious advance of the cause for which the martyrs died.
Judgment was given unto them. Here, judgment means the vindication of one's righteous cause. The Lord avenges the deaths of the martyrs.
Daniel 7:21-22
21 I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them;
22 Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.
The antichrist who sought to wear them out is destroyed. The judgment is not given to the SAME saints Antichrist persecuted but rather to their spiritual successors. The unprecedented advance of the Gospel cause vindicates them and their cause.
Rev 6:
9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
This takes place during the millennium.
The FULL vindication is at Christ's second coming
4) The first resurrection is the glorious revival of the Church on Earth (cause for which the martyrs suffered). A period that ends before the end of the NT age. Not a physical resurrection because it can be reversed as it will be for a season.
5) The second resurrection (v. 5) is the resurgence of ungodliness at the end of the millennium that brings in Satan's little season. This is confined to the "rest" (not resurrection of "all"). After this, Christ comes in judgment.
6) Confirming evidence:
Parallels with Ezekiel 37-48
37: Israel's revival, Destruction of Gog and Magog, Vision of beautiful temple
Rev 20 -22: Millennium, Destruction of Gog and Magog, Holy City and beautified temple
THEN: The vision of the dry bones brought to life is a parallel to the REVIVAL of the church, the most glorious period of the Gospel.
Destruction of Antichrist in Dan 7:26
26 But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end.
27 And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.
2 Thess 2:8 gives greater weight to the view that this man of sin (the Papacy) will be destroyed by the breath of the spirit of the Christ's mouth and with the brightness of his coming.
The spirit of His mouth is a reference to Isaiah 11:4
4 But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.
The Word of His Mouth: the Gospel proclaimed and preached will bring the man of sin down: it will end popery.
The future revival will outshine the Reformation of the 15-16th Century because the papacy survived it. It will not survive the breath of Christ's mouth in the millennium.
Romans 11:12,15,25
Israel's rejection is not final. The remnant will become a fullness.
12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?
15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?
They will be brought INTO the Church through the GOSPEL, not separately in a different organization. And it will bring greater blessings still to the Gentiles.
25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
Mystery: an unfolding of God's purposes (i.e. Ephesians 3)
It connects back to Ezekiel 37 and Rev 20! The dry bones brought to life.
Psalm 72:17, 19
17 His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed.
19 And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen.
For more on the final victory: c.f. Psalm 86:9; 102:16,21; Isaiah 60:8-12,16
The vision of the glorious millennium can be practically seen and tasted by the mind in the words of Malachi:
Malachi 1:11
11 For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts.

First Amendment or First Commandment? Choose whom you will serve.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), has recently published an article lauding the distinctly American value of religious pluralism. Given that the stated purpose of the commission which he heads is to be, "the moral and public policy agency of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination," Moore is intending to influence the massive SBC and other Americans with this article.
In the article, Moore poses the question, "must a person who believes Jesus Christ is the only way to God defend religious freedom for Christians and non-Christians alike?" and then proceeds to defend that very idea: that we as Christians are duty bound to seek legal protections for non-Christian religions. Given the unfortunate recent support of mosque-building efforts by the SBC, this doesn't come as a surprise.
A word of clarification: I stated that religious pluralism is a distinctly American value and while I readily recognize that it is now a commonplace state of affairs outside of the Islamic world, that was not always so. Particularly in European nations, nationally established churches were once the rule of the day. A single "catholic" church in covenant with God as a nation more closely resembles the Israel of the old Covenant administration and as the Church today is true Israel by faith, we ought to set that historic church (Israel) as our example of God's will being done "on Earth as it is in heaven."
And that is the crux of this article. God's Law clearly states in Exodus chapter 20:
"And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Ex. 20:1-3).
Recognizing that Mr. Moore would have no argument with the text on its face, it seems the problem is how Mr. Moore seems to believe this law should be understood in its application, particularly in its obligations to a righteous magistrate. More on that in a moment.
A major problem with Mr. Moore's article is that while he rightly calls for the Gospel to be our means of seeing the souls of men saved so that they might enter into covenant with the triune God, he does not lament the national sins of our laws that enable and embolden paganism. Moore instead celebrates the offense to God's Holy law as if it were a virtue. This is not what one who truly wants the Father's will to be done "on Earth as it is in Heaven" should seek and endorse.
For example, Moore espouses the good old American civil religion as a moral good:
Religious freedom means religious freedom for everyone, including those who reject our gospel.
Some who are reading right now may be asking exactly what Biblical examples of the application of this law looks like in a covenanted nation (since that is our stated "ideal"), particularly given Moore's citation of supposed examples of such from Scripture. But the problem is that Moore's examples are of unrighteous pagan rulers and not of a covenanted people and their righteously covenanted magistrate:
There is precedent in the Bible, of course, for a religion using the state to force people to externally conform to it. Those examples, though, are those of Nebuchadnezzar, and of the Beast that John saw rising out of the sea (Rev. 13), not the church of Jesus Christ.
On the contrary, when Scripture gives historical examples of righteous behavior on behalf of the leadership of the church and the righteous magistrate, we see something entirely different - the church unified in expunging idolatry from the land:
2 Chronicles  23:
16 And Jehoiada made a covenant between him, and between all the people, and between the king, that they should be the Lord's people.
17 Then all the people went to the house of Baal, and brake it down, and brake his altars and his images in pieces, and slew Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars.
18 Also Jehoiada appointed the offices of the house of the Lord by the hand of the priests the Levites, whom David had distributed in the house of the Lord, to offer the burnt offerings of the Lord, as it is written in the law of Moses, with rejoicing and with singing, as it was ordained by David.
19 And he set the porters at the gates of the house of the Lord, that none which was unclean in any thing should enter in.
20 And he took the captains of hundreds, and the nobles, and the governors of the people, and all the people of the land, and brought down the king from the house of the Lord: and they came through the high gate into the king's house, and set the king upon the throne of the kingdom.
21 And all the people of the land rejoiced: and the city was quiet, after that they had slain Athaliah [a pagan priest] with the sword.
2 Chron 24:2
And Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest.
A denial of the righteous magistrate and the nationally covenanted church leadership's shared responsibilities to rid the land of threats to covenantal faithfulness to God is inconsistent with what God calls righteous.
Clearly, we are not a covenanted nation today - a lamentable state of affairs. We lack the benefits and blessings of a magistrate that is morally accountable to Christ and His church, for example. From the adoption of the U.S. Constitution as the law of the land, we have been living in a state which codifies unrighteousness by going against God's law, which is moral and true in all times, and by tolerating false religions. Until this grievous national sin is addressed with the proper recognition of Jesus Christ as the source of governing authority and not the pretended autonomy of "We the People", this can never rightly be called a Christian nation. And since we are not in a covenanted nation today, we don't expect that secular people would lament the wickedness of these laws which are celebrated as natural rights.
As a confessing Presbyterian, I believe Scripture's teaching on the obligations of the First Commandment for God's people are well taught in the Westminster Larger Catechism:
Q. 104. What are the duties required in the first commandment?
A. The duties required in the first commandment are, the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly, by thinking, meditating, remembering, highly esteeming, honoring, adoring, choosing, loving, desiring, fearing of him; believing him; trusting, hoping, delighting, rejoicing in him; being zealous for him; calling upon him; giving all praise and thanks, and yielding all obedience and submission to him with the whole man; being careful in all things to please him, and sorrowful when in anything he is offended; and walking humbly with him.
1 Chr. 28:9; Deut. 26:17; Isa. 43:10; Jer. 14:22; Ps. 95:6-7; Matt. 4:10; Ps. 29:2; Mal. 3:16; Ps. 63:6; Ecc. 12:1;Ps. 71:19; Mal. 1:6; Isa. 45:23; Josh. 24:15, 22; Deut. 6:5; Ps. 123:25; Isa. 8:13; Ex. 14:31; Isa. 26:4; Ps. 130:7;Ps. 37:4; Ps. 32:11; Rom. 12:11; Num. 25:11; Phil. 4:6; Jer. 7:23; Jas 4:7; 1 John 3:22; Jer. 31:18; Ps. 119:136; Mic. 6:8.
Celebrate pluralism? No, rather we are to be, "sorrowful when in anything [God] is offended." Considering the answer to WLC Question 106, which states, "God who seeth all things, taketh special notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other god; that so it may be an argument to dissuade from it, and to aggravate it as a most impudent provocation," we ought not provoke our Lord by celebrating that which He is much displeased with.
Of course, we are dealing with more than just the first commandment being violated by this pluralism.
Q. 108. What are the duties required in the second commandment?
A. ...the disapproving, detesting, opposing, all false worship; and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry (Acts 17:16-17; Ps. 16:4; Deut. 7:5; Isa. 30:22).
In conclusion, just as God's law strictly required Israel to remove idolatry from the land, we should seek to do so as well. Until we are a Covenanted nation, that takes the form of the sharing of the Gospel with all peoples. Once the Gospel has transformed a nation and moved them to covenant for Reformation of the land, we should then continue to see God's kingdom will enacted among us and hold the magistrate accountable to punish idolatry in the covenanted land, not celebrate our willful breaking of the first commandment by tolerating paganism and idolatry among us.
Perhaps what is most disappointing about this is the lack of faith that seems to be evidenced when we think the church needs to ally itself with enemies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be preserved by the State. So, what is the true purpose of religious liberty?
"The final cause [of political association] is also the conservation of a human society that aims at a life in which you can worship God quietly and without error." Althusius, Politica 1.30
Confessional Resources:
WCF Chapter 19.1-523.1 and WLC 104 - 10

Answering John Piper on the Civil Use of God's Law

A recent article (Doesn't the Bible Tell Christians to Put Homosexuals to Death?) by popular Baptist John Piper's organization Desiring God gave me the impetus to attempt to address the numerous problems with how many Evangelicals understand the nature and character of God's law and its relevance for Christians today.
This particular article addresses the subject of the death penalty for sodomites in Leviticus 20:13. As I expected, Piper addresses the question primarily by claiming,
"All the Old Testament finds its completion and fulfillment in Jesus (Matt 5:17) — and that is a basic truth that a person needs to understand. Everything in the Old Testament was pointing toward Jesus as the Son of God incarnate, dying and rising to save his people. And, therefore, in his person, in his ministry, the whole Old Testament reaches a climax and is dramatically altered."
So, acknowledging what is obviously correct about what Piper says here, that Jesus fulfilled the promises of God to send a redeemer, the end of his statement, that the "whole Old dramatically altered" is what I find troubling. Making sweeping statements like this when dealing with a question of the law of God has serious consequences in the minds of potentially millions of believers when you consider the reach and influence of Piper.
The immediate problem this presents is the assault on the immutability of God and the character of the moral law. It is granted that the ceremonial laws peculiar to the state of Israel have passed away. But what of the 10 Commandments? Are these Old Testament moral laws dramatically altered?
Not according to the Westminster Assembly who wrote the following in Chapter 19 (in the interest of space, the corresponding Scripture references to each part of the Westminster Standards cited in this article are not included here but are available at the pages hyperlinked):
WCF 19.II. This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon mount Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two tables; the first four commandments containing our duty towards God, and the other six our duty to man.
This law, being a "perfect rule of righteousness" is therefore moral in character for ceremony cannot make one righteous.  That which is moral is good because it reflects the very character of God Himself. And like God, is unchanging in its nature.
WCF 19.III. Beside this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a Church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated under the New Testament.
So, here we see there is indeed a ceremonial category of laws that are in fact different in character than the moral law and which are abrogated. But there are other categories of laws. What of those?
WCF 19.IV. To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people, not obliging any other, now, further than the general equity thereof may require.
Various judicial laws have expired with the State of Israel with no obligation on us today other than that required by their general equity.
But what is this "general equity"? The principle is well-demonstrated by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9,
8 Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?9 For it is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?10 Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.
The law as given was literally not to muzzle the animal who labors to process food so that it might have the hope of needed nourishment as it labors. But if we take the general equity of that law, we can apply its principles, as the apostle does, to see that we should pay the minister of the Gospel so that he can subsist on his labors which serve the cause of the Kingdom of God, for Paul says,
13 Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?14 Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
So here we have a Mosaic law that would fall under those judicial codes of the State of Israel. However, there is a moral principle in that judicial code pointing to the moral responsibilities of the eighth commandment: do not steal.
WLC Q141. What are the duties required in the eighth commandment?A. The duties required in the eighth commandment are, truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man; rendering to every one his due; restitution of goods unlawfully detained from the right owners thereof; giving and lending freely, according to our abilities, and the necessities of others; moderation of our judgments, wills, and affections, concerning worldly goods; a provident care and study to get, keep, use, and dispose of those things which are necessary and convenient for the sustentation of our nature, and suitable to our condition; a lawful calling, and diligence in it; frugality; avoiding unnecessary law-suits, and suretyship, or other like engagements; and an endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own.
We see that in the prohibition on stealing, there are further moral duties required of us that include rendering what is due to others and doing what we ought to see to those things that are needed to sustain us - including the conducting of corporate worship in honoring the 4th commandment.
Therefore, a nuanced approach is required of us with respect to the law. As Paul exemplifies by his practical application, there are moral principles even to be found in the judicial code of the former State of Israel that are instructive for us and are in fact binding in their general equity on the believer today.
Reformed Scholastic Francis Turretin neatly summarizes the means by which we might use Biblical reasoning when determining the categories of the law:
For distinguishing those things which are of common [general equity] and particular right [particular to Israel], a threefold criterion can be employed.
(1) That what prevails not only among the Jews, but also among the Gentiles (following the light of right reason) is of common right. Thus the Greeks, Romans and others had their own laws in which are many things agreeing with the divine laws (which even a comparison of the Mosaic and Roman law alone, instituted by various persons, teaches)
(2) What is found to be conformed to the precepts of the decalogue and serves to explain and conform it. This is easily gathered, if either the object and the matter of the laws or the causes of sanctioning them are attended to.
(3) The things so repeated in the New Testament that their observance is commended to Christians."
Institutes of Elenctic Theology, XI.xxvi.3
And we see a simpler statement of this truth in the Wesminster Confession along with a reminder that Christ and the truth of the Gospel strengthen our obligation to it, contrary to antinomian error:
WCF 19.V. The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator who gave it. Neither doth Christ in the gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen, this obligation.
I don't think this truth could be any clearer. Yet, we don't seem to hear any mention of it from Piper. The Westminster Confession continues:
WCF 19.VI. Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin; and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof; although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works: so as a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law, and not under grace.
WCF 19.VII. Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the gospel, but do sweetly comply with it: the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.
Therefore, although we are not under the law as a means of justification or condemnation (Rom 7:4), we are directed and bound by it in our behavior as obedience to God is what we are saved to in response to the undeserved grace given, not licentiousness and lawlessness! We are indwelled by the Holy Spirit which enables us to do that which God's will as revealed in His law requires. Naturally, we know that we will not keep the law perfectly in this age, but the clarity of Scriptural teaching on this is a great encouragement: God gives us his Spirit to help us in our task of growing in Christ-like obedience.
Piper also references Hebrews 8:13 and calls the old covenant obsolete, adding,
"The whole Old Testament sacrificial system is over. It doesn’t apply anymore."
I find it rather odd that Piper chooses to reference the sacrificial system in reference to a question about the moral law. In doing so, he is tying the ceremonial element of the law to the moral law and its penal code together as if they are one and the same.
Piper continues,
"So all of those specifics are how the old covenant was becoming obsolete. And dramatic changes came about and hundreds of commands in the Old Testament don’t apply to Christians anymore, because this new phase of redemptive history has come."
The devil is in the details. Which commands don't apply to Christians anymore? All of them? How does a Christian know? Is it arbitrary? I was just asked if I eat bacon by a professing believer because I believe God's moral law and the general equity of the judicial law still apply to include the death penalty for capital offenses. Is that category distinction really so unclear for those who have God's Word in their home? Thankfully, we have already demonstrated previously that these categories are objectively knowable and it is indeed our responsibility to discern them properly.
In further developing our understanding of those law categories, it is helpful to consider the words of Puritan James Durham:
"Distinguish betwixt the Moral, and Ceremonial, and Judicial Law; the first concerns manners, and the right ordering of a Godly Conversation; and because these things are of perpetual equity and rectitude, the obligation of this Law as to that is perpetual; and therefore in the exponding of it, these two terms, Moral, and of Perpetual Authority, are all one, and to be taken so. 2. The Judical Law is for regulating outward Society, & for Government, and doth generally (excepting what was peculiar to the people of Israel) agree with the Moral Law; this as given to them is not perpetual, their policy being at an end. 3. The Ceremonial Law is in Ceremonies, Types, and Shadows, pointing at a Saviour to come; this is also abrogate, the substance being come; but there is this difference, that the Judicial Law is but Mortua, dead; and may, where't is thought fit, with the fore-going caution, be used under the New Testament; but the Ceremonial Law is Mortifera, deadly, and cannot without falling from grace, (Gal. 5. 2, 4) be revived."
James Durham, "The Law Unsealed: Or, A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments", pp. 6-7
Durham clarifies the distinction between between the Judicial law and its purpose and the fact that other than that in the Judicial law that was peculiar to Israel is in fact moral in its nature and like all of the moral law is of perpetual authority. Therefore, that which is given in the Mosaic Judicial law that is moral in nature is perpetually binding, such as we saw with Paul's use of the judicial law to prove the moral responsibility of compensating our teaching elders or pastors.
But what of the penology or penal sanctions of God’s law in the Mosaic judicial code?
Thomas Edwards takes up the subject in his A Treatise Against Tolerance stating,
“Thirdly, these Laws may be looked upon as containing doctrine from God of punishment, i.e. that those who seduce, blaspheme God, etc. be restrained, yea and by death in several cases, or else as in their latter according to the great rigor and severity expressed in them…Now though to the degrees and measures of punishment, the severity and utmost rigor the Magistrate is not now tied, yet to the thing in cases of Idolatry, seduction, false prophesying, speaking lies in the name of the Lord he is bound, and in some cases of gross and high Idolatry and Blasphemy committed presumptuously, to inflict capital punishment.”
Importantly, Edwards connects the moral judicial case laws to the Decalogue.
“Seeing the judicial [laws] prescribe the equity of judgments which is a part of the Decalogue we must be bound to that as we are to the rest of the Decalogue, viz. so far as they contain a general equity though we are not tied to the formes of the Mosaic polity; Now Christ saith, Matth.5. 17. he came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it; which words are comprehensive of the Judicial Law as for the substance a part of the Moral Law, (the Judicial being indeed an Appendix and a more particular explication of that part of the Moral Law concerning matters of Justice and judgement) and therefore must be understood by Christ to be established.”
So, because the moral judicial case laws prescribe the just judgments of God on violations of the ten commandments, we see that Christ upholds it in Matthew 5:17.
But Edwards is far from alone in his assessment of the importance of the penology of the moral Judicial code of the Mosaic law. Theodore Beza, the great Bible translator of Geneva wrote:
“Although we are not bound to the formulae of the Mosaic polity, yet when those judicial laws prescribe equity in judgments, which is part of the Decalogue, we – inasmuch as we are not bound to them to the extent that Moses prescribed them to one people – are yet bound to observe them to the extent that they embrace a general equity, which must prevail everywhere. For the ordinances are apparent for this reason, not because they have been ordained by Moses upon one people of the Israelites, but because they have been ordained by nature upon the entire nation of men.
De Haereticis A Magistratu Puniendis Libellus, 1554, pg 222.
And this Reformed understanding of the binding nature of the moral judicial law codes’ penology is not limited to the sixteenth or even seventeenth century. This is found also in American Presbyterian James R. Wilson (1780-1853) who wrote:
Everyone knows that the Old Testament abounds with such penalties. Such are all the laws respecting theft, damage, gross idolatry, blasphemy, the desecration of the Sabbath, rape, incest, adultery, assaults and batteries, manslaughters, and murders. That these penalties remain under the New Testament in full force is evident; for they were neither ceremonial nor judicial; they were no better adapted to Israel than to other nations; they do not expire by their own limitation; the crimes against which they were enacted are as aggravated now and as mischievous to society as of old, and men are now as prone to commit them as they were in Judea.
Political Danger: Essays on the Mediatorial Kingship of Christ Over Nations and their Political Institutions 1809-1838, pgs. 422-23.
For more on the moral judicial law code penalties, please see Brian Schwertley’s “God’s Law for Modern Man” Chapter 6. In it, Schwertley states:
“[God] has made it very clear that Israel’s justice system (including the penalties) was to be the model for all nations. Why? Because nothing devised by sinful man (i.e., as a complete body of law) is as righteous and just as what God has revealed in His word: “this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who shall hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’... And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day” (Deut. 4:6, 8).
Piper continues,
"A third pointer to this dramatic alteration between the Old and New Testament is that the Christian life is put on a completely new footing from the law. Romans 7:6, “Now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”
As stated before, we do indeed serve in the way of the Spirit which is empowered obedience to the law and our death to the law is to any thought we may have its ability to justify us, not that we are free to ignore that which is moral and therefore perpetual.
“Jesus says to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). And so the church doesn’t function any longer like Israel did as a national or political governmental agency and, therefore, does not coerce its beliefs with the sword.”
The world system is the one which is lawless (Romans 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:14, and Hebrews 1:9) in opposition to righteousness. So, if we are to be of Christ's Kingdom, we would seek Spirit-enabled righteous living in grateful response to grace, but not as a means of our justification as previously (and emphatically) stated.
“For example, in Mark 7:19 Jesus declared all foods clean. So the entire dietary law system of the Old Testament is wiped away, because we don’t need to distinguish ourselves from all the nations of the world.”
Right. However, Jesus certainly did not declare the moral law and the moral part of the judicial law code to be "wiped away," an important distinction that Piper leaves out in a discussion of the application of the moral part of the judicial law code.
“Now, finally, directly to the point about homosexuals being executed in the Old Testament is that the New Testament, when it is presented with an executable offense, dealt with it differently. It goes like this: “It is actually reported that there is a sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among the pagans, for a man has his father’s wife” (1 Corinthians 5:1). When Paul dealt with that — which was in the Old Testament an offense so egregious it would have been dealt with by stoning, killing, execution — Paul did not, of course, prescribe stoning or execution. He prescribed church discipline. And that is a clear example of how dramatic the changes have become.”
And now we come to the part where understanding the history of the Reformation is of vital importance. During the Reformation, a number of nations created a powerful combination of nationally established Reformed Churches and publicly covenanted between the people of the nations (or in some cases city-states) and the church and their magistrates. If that sounds a little bit like the old covenant state of Israel, it should.
Jer. 50:5 "Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual Covenant that shall not be forgotten."
Prov. 25:5 "Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness."
2 Chron. 15:15 "And all Judah rejoiced at the oath; for they had sworn with all their heart."
Gal. 3:15 "Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed by an oath, no man disannulleth or addeth thereto."
In a covenanted society, it is the responsibility of both the Church and State to recognize the kingship of Jesus Christ over both institutions. Therefore, it also falls to the magistrate to enforce the law of God as His instrument.
“For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” Romans 13:4
In a society that has covenanted with God, citizenship and church membership are co-terminal. This does not mean that the State has authority over the church or vice versa. The two have authority in their proper domains.
It is granted that the State has the authority to execute people for capital offenses in God's law provided that the appropriate number of witnesses give testimony. Even our non-covenanted society with its godless Constitution, which wickedly claims its power is derived from "the people" and not Jesus (Matt 28:18), applies this as a natural law consequence. But when we add the presence of a people covenanted with God to promote the true Reformed faith with a unified (established) national church, there can be synergy between the purposes of both Church and State in seeing the will of God carried out. The Church has the power to exercise Church Discipline and the State is given the power of the sword.
It is difficult for a citizen of the United States in the 21st Century to envision a scenario in which this would make sense and be proper but that is because our own current “justice system” is so far from God’s own standard of justice and moral good that we cannot fathom what that would be like.
For the sake of example, suppose a covenanted nation with an established confessionally Reformed Church exists. In this country, an adult citizen (member of the church) has same sex attraction issues and has succumbed to his sinful desires in the past. He slips again and another church member witnesses it. He goes to his brother and begs him to seek help and repent. The afflicted sinner, convicted by the Holy Spirit and with a proper fear of God's righteous law, approaches his pastor and seeks help. With the help of the means of grace, he grows in personal holiness and becomes a godly celibate, never to act out on his sinful desires again.
Now, for a second example, take a situation exactly like the first one, but this time, instead of the man being regenerate and benefiting from the means of grace, his conscience is hardened. As an unrepentant sodomite, he seeks out more encounters to feed his carnal lust. He now entices and grooms a 17-year old high school senior over a period of months and after the student turns 18, he lures him into a room in the local high school and proceeds to sodomize his now-willing partner. A teacher and the principal of the high school hear unusual sounds coming from the classroom and as it is after normal school hours, they open the door to determine what is happening. Seeing the shameful scene, they report it to the appropriate authorities who bring charges against both men. Both the teacher and the school principal are members in good standing of their parish church and provide sworn testimony of what they witnessed. Both men have been raised in the established church and have heard solid, confessionally reformed preaching their entire lives. They know that the penalty for their crime is death. The older man has even been given the opportunity to seek help. Is there any doubt of his guilt? In the United States today, there was no crime other than perhaps trespassing and public indecency committed. But will Church Discipline actually deter future actions on the part of this older man? It is unlikely and since God gave his perfect law with its just and moral punishments for this exact same sin in His Holy Word, we need not quibble over the man's fate. multiple witnesses, under fear of capital punishment themselves if they were to perjure themselves in a capital case, need no reminder of the importance of their truthfulness.
I am deeply indebted to the previous work of my brother in Christ, Paul Barth whose article, “The Judicial Law: General vs. Particular Equity“ was instrumental in the making of this response.