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The Response to Institutes of Biblical Law

By R. J. Rushdoony
October 01, 2003

The response to Institutes of Biblical Law was a very gratifying one. Few expected so large a study on a subject of so little concern to the churches to succeed. It did, however, meet with a very wide approval and response, among students, lawyers, legislators, churchmen, and others.

Hostile Reactions
It has also met with intense hostility at times. It would be well to review the areas of hostility in order to understand some of the key problems of our times. First, the comments on homosexuality outraged many. No other aspect led to more intense (if covert) opposition, slander, and sheer venom. Dr. David A. Noebel has observed to me that the church has perhaps been the central area of infiltration by homosexuals. I find this readily believable in terms of my experience. The homosexual clergy are sometimes great champions of love in the pulpit and savage practitioners of hatred on the sly.

Second, much hostility has been aroused by my statements with respect to the tithe. Many resent a mandatory tithe in favor of more “spiritual ” principles of giving, which they insist lead to more giving than does the tithe. I ask all such to prove to me that their “spiritually minded ” giving surpasses the tithe. None have done so. If “spiritual ” giving cannot equal the requirements of God’s law, it is clearly not the Holy Spirit which is the spirit thereof!

Third, a whole series of objections have their roots in the sexual revolution, which has permeated the churches, evangelical and Reformed, far more than appears on the surface. All too many find fornication and adultery justifiable at times, man being himself the judge of the times!

Obviously, many people are “all for the Lord," provided that He doesn’t interfere with their money and their sex lives!

A fourth general objection has been that the emphasis of Institutes of Biblical Law is on law rather than love. But Romans 13:8-10 makes clear that love is the fulfilling of the law, that is, love puts law into action: it respects God’s requirements concerning life, property, our neighbor, our enemy, and ourselves. Our Lord makes clear that to love God means to keep the first table of the law, and to love our neighbor means to keep the second table of the law (Mt. 22:34-40; Mk.12:28-34). We do not love our wife or God if we commit adultery, nor do we love God if we are idolaters and take His name in vain. Love is the law in action; hate is lawlessness in action. Love and hate are more than mere feelings: they are ways of life, either in faith and obedience to God and His law, or in unbelief and disobedience.

An important question we need now to ask is this: Why do we encounter these and similar objections to God’s law? Why the sometimes intense reaction even to the point of screamed insults, to an insistence of the binding nature of God’s law?

To Be as Gods
The key is Genesis 3:5. The tempter’s key plan is that every man should be his own god, knowing, or determining for himself, what constitutes good and evil. This is original sin; it is the basic sin of man and the underlying factor and foundation of all particular sins. When man tries to be his own god he is saying that he is not a creature, in particular that he is not God’s creature.

To be free from God’s law means that we are our own law, and this is the heart of antinomianism. It is the denial that God can bind us. We are indeed willing to have God free us from sin, provided that we are also freed from bondage to Him and His law! This is the heart of antinomianism, its desire to be free from both sin and God and to become a supposedly free spirit, finding holiness in a spirit-filled life which is disobedient to God’s Spirit and Word.

To Be a Creature
To be a creature means that we are created by the triune God and that our redemption and every aspect of our life and society must be governed by His law-word. Every word of God is a binding word, because it is God’s word. My life must be governed by the word of God. This means that my money, my calling, my family, my sexuality, my political life, my economics, science, art, and all things else must be subject to God’s word and its requirements. When I sit at the table and eat, my eating is governed by God’s law. When I speak, God’s word and the Spirit must govern my tongue. When I think and act, I am subject to God’s law and must be governed by Him. I have no area of independence from God and His word, and every desire for an independent thought, word, or act, is sin.

To be born again means that I, who was once governed by my word and my spirit am now totally to be governed by God’s word and Spirit. My failure to be totally under God’s word and Spirit is evidence of sin and my imperfect sanctification in this life. I must war against my sinful impulses to independence from God, and, like Paul, regard myself as the enemy whenever and wherever I stray from God’s law-word (1 Cor.9: 24-27).

There is more to godliness and to righteousness (or, justice) than the mere condemnation of sin. If mere condemnation constituted virtue, then Stalin was most righteous for condemning Hitler, and Hitler was likewise righteous for condemning Stalin! The idea of condemnation as righteousness smacks of pharisaism. Our Lord says, “[E]xcept your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven ” (Mt. 5:20). Churchmen today are often ready to condemn sin, but where is that righteousness that comes from obedience to God’s Word? Where is the readiness to teach all nations to bring all things into captivity to Jesus Christ? (Mt. 28:18-20; 2 Cor. 10:4-6).

To be creatures means that we are commanded by God the Lord because we are His creation and His re-creation in Jesus Christ. To be a creature means that I know that the Lord is God, my God: “He shall choose our inheritance for us ” (Ps. 47:4), and He has done so in Jesus Christ. I can therefore say with David, “My times are in thy hand ” (Ps. 31:15), and I can rest, work, and sleep in that confidence (Ps. 4:8).

The Greatest Privilege
To serve and magnify God is the greatest of privileges and callings, and I am a most privileged man, having been given so happy a calling.

The purpose of the Chalcedon Foundation is the reconstruction of all things in terms of the Word of God. This, after all, is the purpose of life, to be conformed to God, and ours is a magnificent task. May God the Lord bless us all therein.

The foregoing article is a condensed version of the author’s introduction to The Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol.2, Law and Society. All three of these volumes are available from the Chalcedon e-store).


Topics: Biblical Law

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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