Samuel Rutherford Contra Theonomy On General Equity

Judicial laws may be judicial and Mosaical, and so not obligatory to us, according to the degree and quality of punishment, such as in Deuteronomy 13, the destroying the city, and devoting all therein to a curse; we may not do the like in the like degree of punishment, to all that receive and defend idolaters and blasphemers in their city. And yet that some punishment by the sword be inflicted upon such a city, is of perpetual obligation; because the magistrate bears the sword to take vengeance on ill doers, and so on these that are partakers of his ill deeds, who brings another gospel, I John 5:10. . . . . Because the slaying of man, woman, infant, and suckling, ox and sheep, was temporary, and cannot have a perpetually obligatory ground in the law of nature or natural justice obliging us. . . . . No man but sees the punishment of theft is of common moral equity, and obligeth all nations, but the manner or degree of punishment is more positive: as to punish theft by restoring four oxen for the stealing of one ox, doth not so oblige all nations, but some other bodily punishment, as whipping, may be used against thieves.

Samuel Rutherford, A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience (London: R.I. for Andrew Crook, 1649), 298-99. Quoted in Sherman Isbell, “The Divine Law of Political Israel Expired: General Equity.”


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  1. Even so, I am of the mind that resitution + for thefts would be a better system than incarceration. May I plead general equity rather than joining the Rushdoonyites?

  2. I think the point is that the judicial laws of Israel were part of the old covenant that passed away with the establishment of the new covenant. Under the new covenant, the judicial laws no longer apply because now the universal promise has been realized, that Abraham will be a blessing and a father to all nations, and this does not require them to become Jews who must observe the judicial and ceremonial law of Israel. The moral law, which is written on the hearts of all people still applies and provides a curb against evil, but how punishments against evil are applied by the customs of the nations is no longer bound by the judicial and ceremonial laws that governed Israel.

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