The 1648 Massachusetts Code, based upon John Cotton’s Body of Liberties, became the prototype for every state constitution in early America (Greg Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, p. 555). And both these rubrics could no doubt be surveyed to much benefit for the student of biblical law. But we here follow Greg Bahnsen’s lead in casting our gaze back to the manuscript which preceded both of these — An Abstract of the Laws of New England — that Cotton (with the likely assistance of Gov. Sir Henry Vane of Massachusetts) published from London in 1641.
This particular code is of interest for its distinction as the most overtly theonomic of the bunch, and drafted in the same place and relative time as the Westminster Confession; thus disclosing much concerning the nomological assumptions of the Reformed thought back of the confession itself. So says Bahnsen (p. 557).
The code opens with a repudiation of egalitarianism:
First, All Magistrates are to be chosen . . . Out of the ranck of Noblemen or Gentlemen among them, the best that God shall send into the Countrey, if they be qualified, with gifts fit for government, either eminent above others, or not inferior to others. Eccl. 10:17. Jer. 30:21. (1:1)
Meaning, neither women, nor inferior men were to be considered for office. Patriarchy and giftedness (i.e., natural inequalities) are taken for granted as Christian goods.
The power of the Governor with the rest of the Counsellors, is
First, To consult and provide for the maintenance of the State and People. Num. 11:14-16 . . .
Thirdly, To preserve religion. Ex. 32:25,27 (1:3)
Since the preservation of religion specifies the Christian faith, pluralism – today mislabeled ‘freedom of religion’ – is out of the question. Freedom of religion, as our fathers intended it, meant only freedom for the Christian denominations.
1:4 also speaks of “protection of the Countrey from forraine [foreign] invasion.” The nativism intoned here informs the meaning of the word ‘people’: the Puritan uses the term not as a reference to general humanity everywhere, but as denoting a limited folk.
2:1 specifies that “the free Burgesses” (Fr. bourgeois) are deemed eligible for the magistracy only through membership in a Christian church. And 2:3 stipulates that the magistrate is obliged to support “the maintenance of the purity and unity of Religion . . . by the advice with consent of the Churches, and to represse the contrary.”
3:1 establishes the everyman militia, for all “fit to beare arms.” This is a dichotomy most hated by the liberal mind — freeholds maintained by armed clans, yet discriminating against persons unfit, such as suspects under arraignment, foreign envoys, Indians, slaves, etc.
3:3:2 levies tariffs on foreign import merchants. Sorry, neo-theonomist libertarians, the theonomy of the Puritans, Bahnsen, and (per Bahnsen’s own argument) the Westminster Divines, was distinctly protectionist.
[Titles on land] shall belong and remaine as right of Inheritance to such Townes and their successors, and to such persons and to their heires and Assignes as their propriety for ever. (4:1)
[T]he same shall belong and remaine, unto such person and his heires and assignes as his proper right for ever. (4:2)
As in ancient Israel, the family plot was understood to be inalienable from the lineage assigned it. And we may rightly say ‘assigned’ as parcels were not bought, but allotted by the respective townships. This sort of title on land — by inalienable allotment to family lines — is known as “allodial title” and is regarded an economic blasphemy to both the capitalist and socialist.
Moreover, these allotments were not to be equal: “Eminent respect (in this case may be given to men of eminent quality and descent) in assigning unto them more large and honorable accommodations.” (4:3)
That’s right. Not only was inheritance of title governed by descent, but so was qualification for that initial allotment. And this is further elaborated still:
Inheritances are to descend naturally to the next of kinne [kin], according to the Law of Nature, delivered by God. (4:5)
In the modern milieu, this is a nuclear statement. To hear the PC pulpiteers tell it today, any consideration of natural descent is Darwinism. Never mind that the Puritans wrote in these terms long prior to the voyage of the Beagle; and lest we forget, Darwin himself was an abolitionist, and Darwinists have since their beginning been at the forefront of egalitarianism. And invocation of kinship? Well, “that’s just flat-out paganism!” At least, as of the last decade or so. But theonomists past always knew it as God’s law.
Here’s another antithesis to the new age:
In trucking or trading with the Indians no man shall give them for any commodity of theirs, Silver or Gold, or any weapons of war, either Guns or Gunpowder, nor Sword, nor any other munition, which might come to be used against our selves. (5:2)
Imagine. While affirming the everyman militia for White men, and allodial title by ethnic, religious, and class identity, the Puritans singled out races of men to be denied arms; and even to be denied precious commodities. Because even if fast trading partners, they understood participation in the fortification of a heathen race to be treason against our folk and King Jesus.
In the same passage (5:6), the taking of usury is also forbad in the case of brothers and neighbors. This asserts a righteous privilege due those near of blood and residence over against those more remote. For lending to the Indians carried greater liabilities as a matter of course, and their indenture to Christian White men was the best means of both evangelism and establishment of the WASP on these shores.
Chapter 7 is titled, “Of Crimes,” and it begins:
And first, of such as deserve capitall punishment, or cutting off from a mans people, whether by death or banishment.
The penology from there delineated includes many instances in which “a man’s name should be cut off from his people.” (7:10) Thus redundantly confirming the Puritans’ ethnonationalism.
What’s more, this same chapter emphasizes that violations of the first table of the Decalogue are indeed subject to civil — even capital — penalties. By contrast to which, virtually all high-profile claimants of theonomy today deny this interpretation; and comically, even deny that anyone ever taught otherwise!
The work concludes, most poetically, with chapter 10: “Of causes Criminall between our People and Forraine [Foreign] Nations,” section 1 of which addresses the situation where “any of our people should do wrong to any of another Nation.” And section 2 of which opens, “In case the people of another Nation have done any important wrong, to any of ours.”
This “them and us” language and overt nationalism is today condemned by all the schools of liberalism and secularism, and by those claiming to be the mantle-bearers of the Puritan legacy too. Save the Kinists, of course.
Then section 3 speaks to the consequences of unpunished ethnic trespass: “If right and Iustice [Justice] be denied, and it will not stand with the honour of God and safety of our Nation, that the wrong be passed over, then war is to be undertaken and denounced.”
Of those claiming to be theonomists today, how many would affirm such a statement? Stated another way, how many of them are presently calling for the Mexican government to mete out justice on the effective armies of their people attacking, kidnapping, raping, and murdering our people? Where the Puritans treated any single such case of Indians harming Whites as demanding satisfaction, their supposed inheritors ignore the pandemic of violence on our people at the hands of mestizos, Africans, and others, as less than nothing. In fact, they regard the acknowledgement of it as sin, and objection to or anger at it as conclusive proof of reprobation.
Fact is, John Cotton’s Reformation-era theonomy, affirmed by the likes of Rushdoony and Bahnsen, is regarded by the modern neo-theos as their foremost enemy. In truth, the present narrative and ethos of groups like American Vision and Reconstruction Radio, along with all the mainstream denominations, now paint the theonomy of the pre-Obama years as their only real enemy.
In consideration of which, I think Aspinwall’s foreword to the 1655 reprint of Cotton’s Abstract is the most apt conclusion:
[This model] far surpasseth all the municipal laws and statutes of any of the Gentile nations and corporations under the cope of Heaven. . . . Which, were they duly attended unto, would undoubtedly preserve inviolable the liberty of the subject against all tyrannical and usurping powers . . . to shew the complete sufficiency of the word of God alone, to direct his people in judgement of all causes, . . . civil and criminal. . . . But the truth is, both they, we, and other Gentile nations, are loth to be persuaded to . . . submit to the government of Christ. Nor shall we Gentiles be willing, I fear, to take up his yoke which is easy, and burthen light, until he hath broken us under the hard and heavy yokes of men . . . ere the way can be prepared for erecting his kingdom, wherein dwells righteousness. — And verily great will be the benefit of this kingdom of Christ, when it shall be submitted unto the nations . . . [Ps. 95:10; Isa. 66:12]. All burdens and tyrannical exactions will be removed; God will make their officers peace, and their exactors righteousness, Isa. 60:17.
The Alienist inverted PC theonomy is but one more ‘hard and heavy yoke’ that must break the nations before they return in faith to actual theonomy.