John Knox on covenantal theonomy and the punishment of idolatry

‘If by God’s Scriptures these precedents be so plain, that reasonably no man can deny any point thereof, then have I good hope, that ye will admit it to be necessary, that you avoid idolatry, if the league betwixt God and you shall be kept sure.  And, first, it is to be observed, that God’s justice being infinite in matters of religion, requireth like obedience of all those that be within this league at all times, that he requireth of every one nation or particular man in any one age.  For all that be within this league are one body, as Moses doth witness reckoning men, women, children, servants, princes, priests, officers, and strangers, within the covenant of the Lord (Deut. 29).  Then, what God requireth of one (as touching this league), he requireth of all, for his justice is immutable; and what he condemneth in any one, that he must condemn in others, for he is righteous without partiality.

Then, let us consider what God hath required of such as have been in league with him, and what he pronounceth damnable.  Moses, the mouth of God to his people of Israel, speaketh as follows, ‘If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or the wife of thine own bosom, or thy neighbour whom thou lovest as thine own life, shall privily solicit thee, saying, Let us go and serve other gods whom thou hast not known, etc., obey him not, hear him not, neither yet let thine eye spare him: be not merciful unto him, nor hide him, but kill him.  Let thy hand be first upon him, that such a one may be killed, and then the hand of the whole people.  Stone him with stones till he die.’ [Deut. 13]  And so likewise commandeth he to be done with a whole city, if the indwellers thereof turn back to idolatry; adding also, that the city and the whole spoil thereof shall be burnt; that no portion shall be saved, nor yet, that the city shall be builded for ever again, because it is accursed of God.  Here is a plain declaration, what God requireth of them that will continue in league with him, and what he hath condemned by his express Word.  And do we esteem, beloved brethren, that the immutable God will wink at our idolatry, as that he saw it not, seeing he commandeth judgments to be executed so severely against idolaters, and against such as only provoked or solicited others to idolatry; that neither should be blood nor affinity, neither multitude nor riches, save such as offend, neither yet, that we should conceal their offences; but that we should be the first that should accuse brother, son, daughter, or wife?  And why?  ’Because he intendeth (saith Moses) to bring thee from the Lord thy God, who led thee forth from the land of Egypt; and therefore let him die, that all Israel hearing, may fear, and presume not after to commit the like abominations.  Let nothing pertaining to such a man or city cleave unto thy hand, that the Lord may turn from the fury of his wrath, and be moved over thee with most tender mercy and affection; and that he may multiply thee, as he hath sworn unto thy fathers.’

John Knox, ‘Letter to the faithful in England’ in R. S. Candlish (ed.), Select practical writings of John Knox (1845; Edinburgh, 2011), pp 46-7.






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