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Thy Commandment is Exceeding Broad

When Chris Ortiz made the comment earlier that there is so much raw material available for us to go out and work upon, I was immediately reminded of a critical point I usually make when I teach on the Systematic Theology of Work.

Martin G. Selbrede
  • Martin G. Selbrede,
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Transcribed and Expanded from Martin Selbrede’s Third Lecture delivered at the 42nd Annual Chalcedon Conference in North Carolina Oct. 12-13, 2007

When Chris Ortiz made the comment earlier that there is so much raw material available for us to go out and work upon, I was immediately reminded of a critical point I usually make when I teach on the Systematic Theology of Work. That point is a powerful observation that Dr. R. J. Rushdoony made: “The world was not empty when we entered it, and it certainly should not be more empty for us having passed through it.” In a sense, he’s shaming us for being consumers versus producers, and I think we need to lead in this area. If we don’t, who will?

The title of my talk tonight is “Thy Commandment Is Exceeding Broad,” taken from Psalm 119:96 (“I have seen an end to all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad”). This verse means that the law-word of God covers everything. Everything else has a limit or a boundary point, but the commandments of God, the statutes of God, do not have any such limitations as to how they can be applied.

Now, this unlimited expansiveness, this universal scope of application, is surely one of the great things of God’s law. But the great things of His law are not always received as such by His people. In Hosea 8:12, God makes a comment to Ephraim (the designation for the northern ten tribes of Israel): “I have written to him [Ephraim] the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing.” We live in the Era of Ephraim today. The great things of God’s law that we at Chalcedon proclaim, and that Dr. Rushdoony declared with so distinct a trumpet, are esteemed and counted a strange thing by the average Christian—as something utterly alien. Consequently, modern Christendom will suffer the fate of Ephraim unless it wakes up.

Blasphemy the Modern Christian Way

What we find in Ezekiel 20:27 is surprisingly pertinent to our era. The passage speaks about the neglect, the blatant trivializing, of God’s historic judgments against sin. People trivialized God’s historic acts by arguing, “Yeah, He did that kind of stuff in the old days; yeah, He judged us back then, but things are different now.” And the people dove right back into the same sins of old, as if God’s judgments meant nothing. Yet God says that to do this, to discount these previous acts of judgment, is to blaspheme God. In verse 32, we learn about the kinds of sinful compliance and compromise that Israel was indulging in. Contrary to the people’s expectations, they were not going to prosper on account of such conduct. The only way to prosper was through integrity and uprightness, and to persevere in these things.

Dr. Rushdoony put it this way: valor is the better part of discretion. Think about that idea. Valor is the better part of discretion. We usually hear that discretion is the better part of valor. But now the call is for valor—and courage.

Furthermore, in that same passage of Ezekiel God warns that “you bring your gifts in your hands to pretend to honor me, but you simultaneously bring your idols in your heads and your hearts to pollute me.” God makes it clear that He has had it up to here with this garbage. In other words, we go and play church, but we still go to houses of worship bringing idols in our hearts and our minds.

Amos 5:21–24 is significant for our era as well. God declares how tired He is of the people’s religious festivals. “Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” God is not going to accept all the wonderful singing and rejoicing going on in Christian churches unless they’re going to do the works of God. Otherwise, it’s so much window dressing that God will simply not honor. In fact, He regards it as offensive to Him if there is no root of righteousness and justice being proclaimed by the church, for there is no source laying out what is right other than the law of God, His Holy Word.

God then shows how little chastisement the fathers and the children actually received, compared to what they deserved—a truly remarkable statement preserved by Ezekiel and intended as an ensample for us today.

The Whole Counsel of God

Now, the whole counsel of God is what’s critical. Is this not what Paul teaches? He says, “I am guiltless of the blood of any man” (Acts 20:26-27). Guiltless. But for only one reason was he guiltless: “For I have not failed to declare unto you the entire, the whole, counsel of God. I’ve left nothing out that you needed to hear.” I’m afraid that today’s church cannot necessarily claim the same guiltlessness that Paul was so certain about.

Part of the problem, of course, is that we play games in church, and we make the church become the Holy Spirit and then elbow the Holy Spirit out of the way. This is particularly true in Arminian circles. When the church and the clergy replace the Holy Spirit, John Milton’s accusation again rings true that “the new presbyter is but the old priest writ large.” What happens then when you discount the Holy Spirit? You get “Christ-only preachers.” Heard of them? Christ-only preachers tend toward authoritarianism because the Holy Spirit doesn’t play a significant part in the church. Such preachers discount His work.

What Calvinists, of all people, should do is to magnify the work of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit, because He is omnipotent. He is going to be poured out on all flesh whether we like it or not, and He is going to contend for the glory of the Father.

I want to tell you something about how important God’s Word is. You may have read this from a comment of mine1 before in Faith for All of Life. I wrote, “God’s Word, every syllable of it, is so important that David affirms (Psalm 138:2), ‘[T]hou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.’” God magnified His Word above His Own Name. How dare anyone demote, denigrate, or in any other way, shape, or form diffuse the meaning of God’s Word that God thought so important that He magnified it above His Own covenant Name? That’s how important His commandments are.

I also pointed out in the same article that selective obedience, smorgasbord Christianity, means, really, no obedience at all because it means we only obey God when God’s will coincides with our will. So whose will is really the determining factor? Our will. That’s the problem. It means that we’re really in the driver’s seat; God is not. It means we are passing judgment on God’s requirements, and we pick and choose what suits us. We’ll obey the laws that seem right in our own eyes.

Is there a problem with that?

It’s funny, we all know the last verse in the book of Judges (“every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”). I posed a question to my Sunday school class in Austin at the time, “Why is that wrong?” And everybody came up blank. I said there actually is a verse in the law of God that forbids doing what is right in your own eyes.2 It’s already covered. You don’t have to guess. God already said, Do not do what is right in your own eyes. This was in connection with the worship of Jehovah. There is a forbidding of it, so they were actually directly transgressing God’s law when they did that.

And this lawless mindset, what did Christ say about it? “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”3 At least the pagans are honest. Why should Christians be any less?

Hebrews 2:1 is a very important passage following the exposition of the power and conception of who Jesus is, greater than the angels, etc., God’s final word to us. It says, “Therefore” (in light of all that I just said about the Lord Jesus being greater than the angels, etc.), “we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” We must give more earnest heed than the Old Testament Jews did to the Torah. We are not off the hook. We are not being graded on the curve now. We must give the more earnest heed, not less earnest heed.

And for what purpose? “Lest any of it slip.” There is a propensity, an inclination, for these things to slip if we don’t give them more earnest heed than they did because these are the words of life, the path that leads to life. In other words, the standard for New Testament Christians is higher than it is for Old Testament Israel. John Owen makes the comment that without earnest, diligent heed we stand in danger of letting the Word of God slip. If a vessel (like a pitcher full of water) has holes, the only way to fill it is to pour more into it than is lost through the holes. So it is with our souls and with God’s Word, Owen says. There is no standing still: there can only be growth or decay. We either press toward the mark by running the good race, or we backslide. There is no middle ground.

The other point is that total obedience is critical for another reason entirely. Notice what Malachi 2:9 teaches: “Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law.” Partial in the law: you picked and chose what you would obey out of it. You didn’t obey the whole thing. What does God say about this? If you are partial in the law, “you have not kept my ways.” You kept your ways because you only obeyed that which coincided with your own will.

As John Owen notes, “Sadly ministers can profit from the people’s sinfulness, and some are tempted not to correct the people’s waywardness to feather their own nests.” Hosea 4:8 reads, “They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity.” This is talking about the pastors, the leaders, the shepherds of Israel. God indicates here that the ministers are enriched by the people’s sin and are disinclined to correct it. In other words, they are benefiting from it. So why buck the system at that point if you’re benefiting? The leaders rather look forward to cashing in on it. It is a tragic circumstance that people are compelled to ask themselves if this might be true in their own churches. That is a scary thought.

Another point in connection with the importance of the entire Word of God: consider Luke 1:51. Dr. Rushdoony does an excellent exposition of this passage. “[H]e hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” Rushdoony points out that dianoia (translated “imagination”) means “a thinking over,” namely, “reasoning that is independent of God,” or more concisely, “reasoning without God.” In other words, we can read that passage in the Magnificat as “He hath scattered those who reasoned without God in their hearts.” We need to reason with God, lest we be scattered (and deserve to be scattered). Why would God honor and preserve those who would reason without Him and leave Him out of the picture?

He is the Chief Cornerstone. Many reject Him as Chief Cornerstone. Many builders, in fact, reject Him. But He shall become the Head of the Corner. The stone that the builders rejected shall become the head of the corner.

Are Three Arrows Enough?

I made the comment in a previous Chalcedon conference regarding a fascinating passage in Chariots of Prophetic Fire, where Dr. Rushdoony does an exposition of 2 Kings 13:14–19, where Joash was given a quiver full of arrows by Elisha to drive into the ground.4 Instead of driving them all into the ground, which would have symbolized complete and total victory over their enemy, Joash decided not to do so: he only struck three times and stopped. He was playing power politics (an incredibly insightful observation by Rushdoony). Joash figured, “If I defeat Syria, then Assyria on the other side of Syria can come across that region, so I need to maintain a Syrian buffer state between me and Assyria.” That’s power politics the way it is played today, and Rushdoony identifies that as occurring in this passage of the Old Testament. Joash did not want to completely defeat Syria because then he’d have to worry about a more formidable enemy on the other side of Syria.

Even though God was going to grant him total victory over Syria, Joash wanted no part of it because he was intent on playing power politics. So he smote three times and simply stopped.

Christian Reconstruction is in danger of defaulting to this pattern of Joash, who “smote thrice, and stayed” (vs. 18). Why did I say this back then and write about it? By picking and choosing which arrows to fire (i.e., wisely determining which disciplines we’re going to focus on), we implicitly neglect the entire quiver. We’re supposed to fire all the arrows too, as Christian Reconstructionists. We’re not supposed to just pick three arrows, like politics, economics, and education—and then leave the remaining arrows unfired. We might have smote thrice and stayed, on the grounds that we don’t have the resources to do any better than that. (Because we’ve emphasized the social sciences, Christian Reconstruction often looks merely like a synonym for a social theory. The sciences and arts get short shrift compared to socioeconomic and political spheres. Our totalism is not totalistic enough.)

That’s a serious problem because humanism’s influence is underestimated when it’s right under our noses.5 We don’t recognize how much every single field of human endeavor is completely infected with humanism. We are like fish in water when it comes to humanism. We are born humanists. Our culture is humanistic. It is taking century after century to purge Christian doctrine of humanism, extending even to the present day. We’re not perfect. Dr. Rushdoony even had vestiges of humanism, consciously undetected, which he doubtless prayed to be delivered from. Further, we must all be diligent to clean house on its unseen effects (unseen because the beam in our own eye—optical lumber—makes it so). When the recordings of this conference are reviewed a century from now, those future Christians will likely marvel at how humanistic we Chalcedon lecturers sounded tonight from this pulpit. It might shock you to hear that because we’re all arguing with all our soul and strength against humanism. Nonetheless, we can’t easily see the very system we’re a part of. But we can be effective stepping-stones to the next generation.

What we need to do is prevent humanism from continuing to go unchallenged across the board. If we fail to address it in various spheres, it will simply work its leaven deeper and deeper into them. As I wrote back then, “[T]he invasive nature of humanism’s leaven means that you can reconstruct every social dimension of a culture and still dethrone God in every other sector. Without firing all the arrows, victory can only be partial at best.”

Respiratory Pharmacology as a Growth Industry

I made the following comment two years ago at the Chalcedon conference in Atlanta: “If we were to reconstruct every single field except respiratory pharmacology, then every humanist would become a respiratory pharmacologist.” A year later in Lynchburg I provided an even more detailed exposition of Proverbs 21:4 than I had in Atlanta. I chose this verse because people often argue that “surely there are things that are neutral, that the Scripture doesn’t speak to, so we have some freedom to wax humanistic in such areas because the Scripture doesn’t apply, isn’t relevant, etc.”

“What saith the Scripture? How do you read?” Proverbs 21:4 reads, “An high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin.” The plowing of the wicked is sin. Now, what could be more neutral than running a plow … around a field … behind a set of oxen?

But the plowing of the wicked is sin. There is a violation of God’s law going on there. There is a violation of God’s wisdom occurring in the plowing. So, if not even the act of plowing is neutral, what do you think remains as neutral? Nothing. There are no secular vocations. There’s a right way, a godly way, to plow, and there’s an ungodly way to plow.

You might ask me, Can you provide an example of a godly way to plow? I’d be happy to. In Isaiah 28, starting at verse 23, God speaks thus:

23 Listen and hear my voice; pay attention and hear what I say.
24 When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil?
25 When he has leveled the surface, does he not sow caraway and scatter cummin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field?
26 His God instructs him and teaches him the right way.
27 Caraway is not threshed with a sledge, nor is a cartwheel rolled over cummin; caraway is beaten out with a rod, and cummin with a stick.
28 Grain must be ground to make bread; so one does not go on threshing it forever. Though he drives the wheels of his threshing cart over it, his horses do not grind it.
29 All this also comes from the LORD Almighty, wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom. (Isa. 28:23–29 NIV, emphasis added.)

So don’t tell me that God’s not interested in plowing and agriculture, or that His wisdom is not manifested with power, beauty and glory in the mundane, boring act of running a plow. He’s with you when you plow. Be an ambassador for Him as you plow.

Is Christian Worship Literally Lawless?

How many of you in the audience have sung songs where the text was out of the law of God? Can you give me an example what the verse was? [Some law-honoring psalms were mentioned in reply, but nobody in the audience remembered ever singing an actual commandment-based song. I suspect the works of Reconstructionist songwriter Judy Rogers need to be more heavily promoted!]

The point I’m making is that there are 613 laws in God’s Word in the Old Testament. How often do we sing all 613? Or any one of them, for that matter? In Psalm 119:54 David declares, “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.” As commentators like Williamson have pointed out, the Israelites versified the laws of God (all of them) and turned them into songs so that the people could memorize them and understand them. Israel sang the commandments.

David mentions that God’s commandments were his songs. But they’re not our songs, are they? We’re missing something. We’re not setting God’s statutes to music anymore. They’ve been lost to us. There’s no interest in the law of God. It’s been orphaned. God’s law has gone AWOL from our music, from the hymns and songs we sing in these beautiful halls and churches. Our people perish for lack of knowledge, for we didn’t know any better and were led down the wrong path for centuries in this area. Even Luther failed in this regard. Yet there it stands in Psalm 119, where David asserts that “Your statutes were my songs in the house of my pilgrimage,” my pilgrimage on earth. And we don’t do that anymore, do we? It’s kind of an alien thought. And yet we talk about how theonomic we are. Well, we need to start putting those texts to music, and singing them. Then we can say with David that God’s statutes are our songs too.

You, Too, Are Called to Be a Reconstructionist

Finally, I’m going to spare you what I did to the poor people in Lynchburg last year. They were subjected to two-and-a-half hours of lectures on the Christian Reconstruction of linguistic theory, comprising over 178 PowerPoint slides. Some people got a lot out of it, and others said of my talk what Peter said of Paul’s writings: “Hard sayings easily wrestled and hard to be understood.”

The one lesson that everyone came away with from my lectures was this: “We didn’t know that linguistics was so absolutely infected to the core by humanism, and Marxism, and socialism, and what a mess it is, and dictionaries don’t agree, and they have strident ideological biases, and the whole thing is a mess and the scholars can’t even agree what ‘meaning’ is, and Nietzsche was going to seize control over meaning itself, so no wonder linguistics is a mess.”

It’s an existential mess. And Christians alone can fix it because we don’t think dialectically, while humanists have a gigantic dialectical problem on their hands that only Van Til and Rushdoony can fix. I thoroughly documented this situation in Lynchburg, and I invite you to get those tapes (which I believe will be made available). Therefore, instead of going into great depth on linguistics, I’m going to conclude with something more provocative and talk about how Rushdoony’s thinking relates to the field of science.6

Psalm 145:17 reads, “The LORD is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all his works.” Do you believe that? If so, say Amen. [A vigorous Amen from the audience.] Okay, if you believe that, you now have another problem, a big problem. You’ve just become a dissident in the area of science. You are now on the wrong side of quantum mechanics and relativity theory. Why is this? Because of some other related verses you need to be aware of.

God set the compass on the face of the deep. He laid the beams of the heavens, and He created the universe, and in so doing, we know this one determinative fact that He revealed about Himself: the Lord is righteous in all His ways and holy in all His works. And what does He have to say regarding how created things are measured? Does He countenance diverse weights and measures, or does He require that things be built “according to the pattern shown thee”? (Deut. 25:14; Lev. 19:35–36). Proverbs 11:1 puts it simply: “A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight.” Proverbs 16:11: “A just weight and balance are the LORD’s: all the weights of the bag are his work.” Proverbs 20:10: “Diverse weights, and diverse measures, both of them are alike abomination to the LORD.” Proverbs 20:23: “Diverse weights”—which are fluctuating measures—“are an abomination unto the LORD; and a false balance is not good.”

What’s the problem exactly? Quantum mechanics and relativity theory, the core of modern science since 1900 and 1905 respectively, have basically demolished all concepts of measurement and teach that all the basic measures are fluctuating and diverse, such as weight, length, velocity, mass, etc.7 These two paradigms reign nearly supreme over all mainstream science.

As it turns out, there are competent physicists out there who are trying to reconstruct science, who are going head-to-head against the great priesthoods aggregated around Albert Einstein and relativity, or around Max Planck, Niels Bohr, and quantum theory. The dissidents are in the minority, but they’re slowly growing in numbers. Some of them are not Christians at all, but simply scientists who can’t get their arms around the idea of fluctuating measurements. Those who are Christians should sound a clear trumpet, arguing on Biblical grounds that a modern science that’s based on fluctuating measurements is false: all the utilitarian results that relativity and quantum mechanics deliver don’t lead to anywhere but a dead end. Humanism is always a false beginning that can only lead to a dead end. These fields should be challenged.

The time will come when people following the work of Chalcedon will be spearheading the challenge against the still-standing giant monuments of twentieth-century humanistic thinking. Make no mistake about this one fact, that “[e]very plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up” (Matt. 15:13). We’re going to ultimately see all these fields collapse, for they don’t deserve to persist, to encumber the ground (Luke 13:7). We’re to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Who said that relativity should get a pass, that quantum mechanics should get a pass? They don’t deserve a pass nor should we give either scientific paradigm a pass or a free ride.

It might surprise you to hear that there are compelling alternate explanations for the effects predicted by these modern theories, explanations based on classical physics (physics without diverse measures). But so entrenched are the relativistic and quantum paradigms that scientists treat the growing mass of contrary evidence as a mere intellectual curiosity. “Oh, there’s a way to explain these phenomena using classical theory, using absolutes in the physical realm, that God would not violate His own Law, that He wouldn’t use abominations to measure off His own creation because all His ways are righteous and all His works are holy? How quaint.” But I assure you, dear reader, that if God declares something to be an abomination, He won’t Himself indulge in it.

Whom to trust more than God as to how the universe works? That’s how we challenge evolution, on the grounds that the Bible has spoken differently. That’s why it’s very heartening to see creationism continue to gain ground against evolution: not only in the absolute toe-to-toe war on the scientific grounds that continue to rage,8 but also for Christians to say “why are we selling our birthright for a mess of pottage in any of these areas?”

Now, sometimes it plays out like this: first, you actually observe someone like David go out there with five stones and knock a Goliath down, and then you’ll say, “Okay, now I’m going to get behind God’s plan.” (You come to this rather safe conclusion after Goliath’s clock was cleaned.) But who’s going to go walk out there first and knock down Goliath? We should all be saying, “Lord, send me.” Let’s support the scholars that have the skill and the will. As we’ve noted before, “there are not many wise, not many noble,” because God loves to confound the wise (to His eternal glory). But we certainly can support and lift up people who are equipped to confront these idols of the mind, and we need to continue to move in these expanding directions.

So, in every discipline, in every area, the matter really boils down to a very disturbing choice, and I’m going to cast it in the harshest possible light to leave you with a lasting impression. When you look at Discipline X—maybe it’s linguistics, maybe it’s a field of historical research, maybe it’s an area of medicine—you’re going to have to choose. You must ask yourself the most critical of all questions: “What’s going to govern my approach to this topic? I have a choice. In my mind, when I approach Discipline X, I can either set Barabbas free, or I can set Jesus free.”

But most of us unwittingly (but more often than not wittingly) say, “Not this Man, but Barabbas. Let’s set Barabbas free and do things humanistically. Let’s default to the humanistic norm because (1) it’s a statistical norm (everybody does it) and (2) no one’s led the way to do it any differently.” Neither of these rationales is a legitimate excuse. You must not follow a multitude to do evil.9

We remain in continual danger of mentally letting Barabbas loose and keeping Jesus chained up, so that He cannot be released into our discipline, our field, our sphere, our calling, our thinking. So the final question I ask is, in so doing, do we crown Him with many crowns, or do we offer Him, the Lord Jesus, a crown of thorns when we do our thinking?

Martin G. Selbrede, Vice President of Chalcedon, lives in Woodlands, Texas. Martin is the Chief Scientist at Uni-Pixel Displays, Inc. He has been an advocate for the Chalcedon Foundation for a quarter century.

1. M. G. Selbrede, “The Perpetual Kindergarten,” Faith for All of Life May/June 2007.

2. Deuteronomy 12:8: “Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes.” Compare Deuteronomy 13:18.

3. See Luke 6:46.

4. R. J. Rushdoony, Chariots of Prophetic Fire (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2003), 159–163. Rushdoony regards the smiting of the ground to mean the firing of the arrows (using the bow) into the earth, rather than merely tapping the ground with a handful of arrows. Joash knew full well what each arrow-strike signified, since Elisha had explained this in no uncertain terms prior to Joash beginning the smiting process.

5. Most people think it’s the other guy’s profession that needs reconstructing, not their own field or discipline.

6. For a more structured treatment, see Selbrede’s article in the Nov.–Dec. 2007 Faith for All of Life on Rushdoony’s impact on science.

7. When one set of absolutes is dethroned, another usually takes its place. For relativity, the speed of light becomes a new absolute, and the space-time interval is the new invariant of choice. Both “absolutes” are hedged round about with caveats and provisos that don’t apply in the actual real universe (filled as it is with gravitating bodies).

8. Regarding the creation-evolution battle, it’d be wise not to trust the press and mass media due to their overt bias. Their claim of neutrality in reporting this issue, like all claims to neutrality by any party from either side to such debates, is a myth, as Rushdoony and Van Til have cogently argued.

9. See Exodus 23:2.

Martin G. Selbrede
  • Martin G. Selbrede

Martin is the senior researcher for Chalcedon’s ongoing work of Christian scholarship, along with being the senior editor for Chalcedon’s publications, Arise & Build and The Chalcedon Report. He is considered a foremost expert in the thinking of R.J. Rushdoony. A sought-after speaker, Martin travels extensively and lectures on behalf of Christian Reconstruction and the Chalcedon Foundation. He is also an accomplished musician and composer.

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