James Ussher On General Equity

What call you the Judicial Law?

That wherein God appointed a Form of Politic and Civil Government of the Common-wealth of the Jews: Which therefore is ceased with the Dissolution of that State, for which it was ordained; saving only in the common Equity.

Is this Law utterly revoked and abolished by Christ?

No. For he came not to overturn any good Government of the Commonwealth; much less that which was appointed by God himself.

May not Christian Magistrates then swerve any thing from those Laws of Government, which were set down by Moses?

In some Circumstances they may: But in the general Equity and Substance they may not.

What Judicial Laws are immutably to be observed now of Christian Magistrates?

Those which have Reasons annexed unto them, and especially those wherein God hath appointed Death for the Punishment of heinous Offences.

James Ussher, Body of Divinity (London, 1645; repr. 1702), 182

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  1. “…especially those wherein God hath appointed Death for the Punishment of heinous Offences.”
    This seems like good evidence that general equity not only authorizes but provides a positive argument for civil enforcement of the first table.

    • Charles,

      Most of the Reformed agreed with that understanding in the classical period but it only works under the assumption that 1) heterodoxy is civilly heinous; 2) that the state is authorized to execute such a penalty under natural law. I doubt both premises.

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