God’s Law, ‘General Equity’ And The Westminster Confession Of Faith -- By: Harold G. Cunningham

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 58:2 (NA 2007)
Article: God’s Law, ‘General Equity’ And The Westminster Confession Of Faith
Author: Harold G. Cunningham

God’s Law, ‘General Equity’ And The Westminster Confession Of Faith

Harold G. Cunningham


According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the only obligation now placed upon the Christian community towards the Old Testament judicial laws is one of ‘general equity’. How to interpret these words has often been discussed, mainly because of the very stringent position adopted by the Reconstruction Movement. This article reviews the development of the term ‘general equity’ in terms of English Law and its subsequent use by theologians. Because of comments by Calvin and others a study is made of the idea in the writings of Aristotle. The practical application of ‘general equity’ is not without problems, but the conclusion is drawn that it can be implemented in the sense of ‘being reasonable’.

1. The Theonomic Debate

Not all are agreed about the continuing importance of God’s law in the life of the Christian community. Some understand the Christian as now being ‘free from the law’, while in the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 19 – ‘Of the law of God’, the abiding obligation of the law is discussed in some detail. It explains that, to Israel, God gave the law moral, ceremonial and judicial. The moral law is binding, the ceremonial law has been fulfilled in Christ and

To them also, as a body politick, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.1

This raises the question, what is actually required by the meaning and use of the term ‘general equity’? It is an important question for all who are interested in the Confession of Faith, but particularly so because of the interpretation being put upon this phrase by the Reconstruction Movement. Holding to a position known as ‘theonomy’, this movement maintains that in order to do justice to the concept of equity, the general principle of the law must remain. In other words it is only the Jewish form that has been replaced but the institution itself, the ‘equity thereof’, is everlastingly binding. The judicial law therefore, when stripped of its peculiarly Jewish appurtenances, is still in force and it is the duty of the magistrate to make sure it is enforced. The special administrations of the judicial laws, which belonged to the Jews in a particular setting and period of cultural development, and therefore one peculiar to that situation, are no longer mandatory. For example, the death penalty must still be applied as part of the equity of the law but the method of stoning is no long...

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