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Rewards and Punishments

Whether in the spiritual realm, with respect to heaven, or in the academic world for grades, or in the business world for profits, rewards and punishment (or penalties) motivate people.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony,
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Included in Chalcedon Report No. 225, April 1984 *

A common opinion in recent years holds that rewards and punishments represent an unsound means of dealing with children or adults. We are told that rewards produce an unhealthy motive in those who win, and are traumatic for those who lose. It is also said that punishment is merely vengeance. On these premises some educators have eliminated grading as well as other forms of rewards and punishments. This hatred of rewards and punishment is one form of the attack on the interrelated concepts of competition and on discipline. Whether in the spiritual realm, with respect to heaven, or in the academic world for grades, or in the business world for profits, rewards and punishment (or penalties) motivate people (Psa. 19:11; 58:11; 91:8; Matt. 5:11, etc.). This motivation leads to competition, and competition requires discipline, self-discipline, discipline under civil and criminal law, and discipline under God (Heb. 12:1–11). And a result of honest competition is character.

But some people object, why not by cooperation? Isn’t cooperation a superior method to competition? But as stated by Campbell, Potter, and Adam, in Economics and Freedom, “in a free market, voluntary cooperation and competition are names for the same economic concept.” Historically, the competition of the free market has only been possible where a common culture and a common faith lead individuals to cooperate with each other. Men compete for cooperation in the confidence that others respect quality, and they constantly improve their products and service to earn that cooperation. Cooperation dies if competition dies, because then “pull” compulsion, and force replace the free, cooperative operations of the market.

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Ultimately, rewards and punishments presuppose two things. First, they presuppose God, who has established certain returns in the form of rewards and penalties in the very nature of the universe as well as in moral law (Exod. 20:5–6; Judg. 5:20). Thus, any attack on the idea of rewards and punishment is an attack on God’s order. Second, rewards and punishments presuppose liberty as basic to man’s condition. Man is free to strive, to compete, to work for rewards and to suffer penalties. Thus, any attack on these concepts is also an attack on liberty: it is an insistence that a levelling equality together with total controls is a better condition for man than liberty is or can be. St. Paul declared, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). God and liberty are inseparable. And liberty presupposes and requires free activity: it has its striving, its rewards and punishments, its heaven and hell, its passing and its failure. These are the necessary conditions of freedom. The alternative is slavery. Slavery offers a very real form of security, but then so does death and a graveyard (Deut. 30:15–20). To respect rewards and punishment, competition, and discipline is to respect life itself, and to value character and self-discipline. It means, simply, choosing life: “therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deut. 30:19).

* Originally a brochure produced for Coast Federal Savings in the late 1960s, this article was published with Rushdoony’s other brochures as part of a two-sided paper titled “Comments in Brief” with Chalcedon Report No. 225, April 1984.


R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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