Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Thomas Becon and the Regulative Principle of the State

Thomas Becon, English Reformer, Chaplain to Archbishop Cranmer

The Law of Moses and Punishing Offenses against the First Table of the Law

In "The Catechism of Thomas Becon," Becon argues that rulers should not only punish violations of the Second Table of the Law, but the First Table as well:
Father. But let me ask thee one question, my son: in punishing the wicked and ungodly, may the temporal rulers also punish the idolaters and false prophets or preachers of corrupt and wicked doctrine? SonThe magistrate hath the sword committed unto him, not only to punish the transgressors of the second table, but also such as offend and break the commandments of the first table. For if the temporal ruler ought not to suffer any person to escape unpunished that offendeth man, much less ought he to suffer any to escape unpunished that offendeth his Lord God, specially by idolatry and false doctrine.[1] 
Here Becon takes for granted the abiding validity of Old Testament civil law. He cites the capital punishment in Deuteronomy 13 for those who would seduce others away from God, after which he adds:
Again God saith: "The prophet which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that speaketh in the name of strange gods, the same prophet shall die" [Deuteronomy 18:20]. Also in another place: "Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, let him be slain; and all the multitude shall stone him to death: whether he be born in the land or a stranger, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, let him be slain" [Leviticus 24:15b, 16].
Can there be a greater cursing of God, than to fall from him which is the alone true God, and to turn unto creatures, and to crave all things of them, as of God? And can there be a more heinous blasphemy done or spoken against the most glorious name of the Lord our God, than to preach and set forth doctrine contrary to God's word; and by this means to bring the people into error, and to lead them from the way of truth unto falsehood, and so finally unto everlasting damnation? ...
But we have not only an expressed commandment to kill and put out of the way all idolaters and false prophets, I mean such as willfully and obstinately resist the truth, and will by no means be reformed; but we read also of divers kings and rulers which did put the same commandment in execution and practice; and God blessed them greatly for it.[2]

Rulers must do all things according to God's Book

For Becon, rulers must be guarded from the ignorance and blindness of ruling by man's ideas instead of solely by God's word in Scripture:
And for this purpose, because he should not be deceived of the wily and subtile hypocrites, which desire above all things to lead the higher powers in ignorance and blindness, that they may do what they list without check, the magistrate is commanded of God to be learned himself in the laws and ordinances of God, that he may do all things according to God's book, and not after his own fancy or will, nor yet after the crafty persuasions of the subtile hypocrites. "The king," saith God, "when he is set upon the seat of his kingdom, he shall write him out a copy of this law in a book. [ ... ] And it shall be with him, and he ought to read therein all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, and to keep all the words of this law," &c. [Deuteronomy 17:18, 19a] And to Josua God said likewise: "Let not the book of this law depart out of thy mouth; but record therein day and night, that thou mayest observe and do according to all that is written therein. For then shalt thou make thy way prosperous, and then shalt thou do wisely." [Joshua 1:8] The prophet David also exhorteth the kings and rulers of the earth to get them understanding, and to be learned in the law of the Lord, yea, and to "kiss the Son," that is to say, to embrace Christ the Son of God and his holy gospel; lest, if they do the contrary, God be angry with them, and so they perish from the right way. [Psalm 2] [3]


[1] Thomas Becon, The Catechism of Thomas Becon, With Other Pieces, ed. John Ayre (Cambridge: The University Press, 1844), 311. 
[2] Ibid., 311, 312.
[3] Ibid., 303.


No comments: