LBCF 1689 Reflections. Part 168

Reflections on the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689


23 Aug 14 began a perhaps unbroken, orderly, and personal journey through my favorite written confession of faith. These are my personal reflections on this beloved historic Particular Baptist confession of the Christian Faith.




Chapter 19. “Of the Law of God.” Paragraph 4: “To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of moral use.”


There are many fantastic phrasings in this confession. Many succinct articulations of ideas that cause it to stand out as an exceptional summation of Christian truth to me. This short sentence ranks highly among them. It reflects a great deal of Spirit-led, prayerful, mature truth. There’s so much here in so few words. The Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647, in its chapter 19, first articulated this truth so wonderfully.

This thirdly addressed division of the Law (or Torah) which they here call “judicial” is what’s also known as the “civil law” of the Hebrews which had its full jurisdiction from the mid-15th century BC to the end of the nation of Israel as a Mosaic cultus in the New Testament around AD 30. God had called them out of Egypt. God had given them his moral law. In fact, “…written by the finger of God.” Exodus 31:18. That was all done. The second two divisions of the Law that followed, being this one and the “ceremonial” laws of the temple, the priesthood and the sacrifices governed the communal life of the Hebrews in that unique society. Jesus himself was the one who officially ended his Old Covenant with this people with the shedding of his own blood. The temple, which was rebuilt or desecrated several times by the first century, would be finally destroyed by AD 70. Despite the varying status of the temple in Israel’s history, the Tanakh was to carry its authority among the nation regardless, all based on the Torah, and growing up until the last of the Old Covenant prophets.

So, what do we do as Christians today with the “ceremonial,” “judicial” or “civil” laws of Israel? The confession seeks to make sense of this. What about eating swine? Touching dead flesh? Wearing certain types of garments, certain tattoo-like marks, sowing various types of seeds, stoning, etc.? Good Bible students understand that we’re not under the Law, but that it’s still in no way to be “un-hitched.” This confession reflects the hearts of men who knew this truth well. This confession’s writers know that there’s import today from all of God’s word.

They speak of things like the “virtue of institution” and “general equity.” One great example of what they’re saying here is seen in the parapet law of the Old Covenant. The next verse explains it. “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you will not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone falls from it.” Deuteronomy 22:8. Let’s now see the import. In many ancient cultures, much of everyday life in the evenings was lived out on one’s roof. To relate this, other cultures today may have stoops, street corners, gymnasiums, skating rinks, etc. So, imagine it’s your neighbor’s kid’s birthday party in 10th century BC Israel on a cool Friday October evening. You’re hanging out at a friend’s house grilling out on the roof and your kid falls off ten or fifteen feet and gets hurt because there was no parapet built around the roof to protect him. The parapet was like a barrier or a fence. This civil law in Israel was given to protect people, like kids, while they were on their roofs. Now, we don’t require this here where I currently reside in Germany. Most roofs are slate and sharply slanted A-frame roofs here anyway so people don’t usually spend too much time out on them. However, even today, if there’s a pool in the ground, for example, similar laws exist to protect people. If there’s a construction site or a large hole where someone can get hurt, laws are in place to protect people from being crushed or falling in. There must be barricades and/or signs put up, etc. This saves someone from the idea of “bloodguilt.” Is there an import or a “moral use” here then with the parapet law that we who live today can make use of? Yes. Protect kids (etc.) from unnecessary harm so you’re not guilty of them dying or being injured at your place uselessly. This is a form of “general equity” from such laws and there are many thousands of examples of this from it.

The law of parapets needn’t be enforced today verbatim to be useful…unless maybe you’re hanging out on your roofs a lot as some cultures might in fact do. If such a law does exist today, however, it’s a new society’s laws that outline such things for that society, and is not to be a strict obedience to the Mosaic Law which in its judicial regard was for those people in that time for a reason. No other nation since Israel can possibly be Israel since God alone made covenant with them. Principles of the Mosaic Law may apply today perhaps in any culture, but that other culture’s rule of law is not enforced, “by virtue of that (of Israel’s) institution.” They’re obeyed by another society’s import of it all into their own law code(s). The principle clearly makes sense, even though this part of the Law went away with the theocratic nation of Israel as a whole. This is why we speak of many nations being built upon a “Judaeo-Christian worldview.”

We don’t pick and choose a thing from the Law for ourselves. Such principles as this clearly regard also the priestly and dietary laws in the “ceremonial law,” for example, clearly in the New Testament. They were for those people in that day. They are not reiterated in the New Testament. If anything, they’re often expressly abrogated. The moral law is reiterated, with the Sabbath taking on its fullness in Christ as we’ll see later in chapter 22. We today are not to be ancient Israel. The Gospel we’re now ruled by is for all nations. The moral law reigns still in every nation. At least it should. The rest do not. It’s clear from apostolic revelation that they were never intended to. The laws that govern our civil societies being now approached differently as different peoples who are accountable still to the only God, and every society is wise to look to the whole moral import of all three divisions of the Mosaic Law.

I’ve spoken of this here in rather secular ways. These rules, however, have a clear and far more immediate impact on Christian creeds and confessions. We make use of import too. In fact, any natural implication explicated here in a society comes directly from revelatory interpretation of religious matters. The confession was not so much interested in a magistrate’s use of these principles, as they were in a pastor’s. The principle, however, can be clearly explained as I hope I’ve done.

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