The Institutes of Biblical Law
By Rousas John Rushdoony

Reviewed by Patrick Hurd


On February 8, 2001, one of the premier theologians of the 20th century laid aside his mortal body and entered the glory of life hoped for by grace through faith. Rousas John Rushdoony, born in 1916, the son of Armenian immigrants, was ordained as a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and distinguished himself as a missionary on the American Indian reservations. One of his early books, The Messianic Character of American Education, was a major influence in the fledgling home school movement in California. During the 1960s, Rushdoony was called upon in court cases as an expert historian on home schooling as a legitimate alternative to public education.  He was the father of modern home schooling.

In 1959, his first book appeared, By What Standard?, a study of the philosophy of Cornelius Van Til who led the fight against liberal theology, natural law, and higher criticism in the late 1930's and 1940's.  In 1973, Rushdoony wrote The Institutes of Biblical Law to demonstrate that the only standard of life and ethics provided by God is biblical law. It is the first major work to address the social effects (family, church, and state) to the flood of humanism filling the vacuums in society caused by the church who embraced dispensationalism in the late 1800's and, thus disarmed, began her retreat into obscurity.

Subsequent works have been published that follow Van Til and Rushdoony's premise that when establishing ethical standards within a society the Christian must presuppose the truth of God's word.  In 1982, Dr. Francis Schaeffer wrote How Shall We Then Live and in 1985, Dr. Greg Bahnsen wrote By This Standard followed by No Other Standard in 1991.  Both were students of Van Til. 

The Institutes of Biblical Law is a comprehensive examination, explanation, and application of the Ten Commandments, individually and sequentially.  Comprehensive in that every aspect of life and society is touched upon: family, government, church, economics, politics, trade, science, education, employment, property rights, judicial  and penal, arts, medicine - there is nothing outside the scope of God's jurisdiction and direction through His law.  Rushdoony displays through scripture and historical witness how God's law is the only valid authority and the consequences of neglecting or rebelling against His authority.

For many of us raised in the evangelical South, the mention of law raises immediate flags of legalism and Phariseeism, as if faith and law were opposites to be pitted against each other.  Much of what we heard from the pulpits then, and still today, do in fact work to pit one against the other.  Throughout the book, Rushdoony displays over and over the redemptive and complimentary nature of faith and law from God's word.  For example:

"Man as covenant-breaker is in 'enmity against God' (Romans 8:7) and is subject to 'the law of sin and death' (Romans 8:2), whereas the believer is under 'the law of the Spirit of life in Christ' (Romans 8:2).  The law is one law, the law of God.  To the man on death row in a prison, the law is death; to the godly man the same law which places another on death row is life, in that it protects him and his property from criminals." Page 3.

"The law is condemned by the New Testament as a means of justification, which it was never intended to be.  The law is not our means of justification or salvation, but of sanctification." Page 305.

In addition to expounding on the individual components of the law, Rushdoony also makes observations with regards to the law as a whole as it relates to creation, life, and social order.  He discusses the promises of God's law  found, for example, at Deuteronomy 7:9-15 which, then by necessity, are accompanied by curses for disobedience.  With regards to God's law in the Old Testament, Rushdoony observes, "Since the modernist lacks a faith in the sovereign God, he cannot accept the existence of a given law from the beginning.  He must posit instead an evolution in man's self-awareness and a development of law in terms of man's experience with realty.  As a result, the modernist sees the law as a late codification of Israel's national experience."  Page 670.

In his chapter, The Law in the New Testament, Rushdoony explains the role of God's law in the cultural mandate as exemplified by Paul at 2 Corinthians 10:4-6, "Thus, the first step in the [cultural] mandate is to bring men the word of God and for God to regenerate them.  The second step is to demolish every kind of theory, humanistic, evolutionary, idolatrous, or otherwise, and every kind of rampart or opposition to the dominion of God in Christ.  Third, this requires that, like Paul, we court-martial or 'administer justice upon all disobedience' in every area of life where we encounter it.  To deny the cultural mandate is to deny Christ and to surrender the world to Satan." Page 725.  "Western humanistic law has adopted basically the same premises as Soviet law and in some cases practiced it more rigorously and systematically.  By all of this their religion is revealed; the culture of modern man is one of surrender to environment, to Fate.  Humanism, whether in its liberal or Marxist forms, has no cultural mandate but rather a cultural surrender; it is an aggressive philosophy of surrender."  Page 727.

In addition to this larger 1st volume, there are two other volumes that serve as addendums to the first.  Volume 3 is much shorter and arranged in a devotional style.  Carrie has used this volume with our kids as devotional material to familiarize our children with the nature and scope of God's law.

The Institutes of Biblical Law may very well be the greatest work done for the Church in the 20th century.  It should be required reading for every Christian, even more so for those in roles of authority, and without exception for those involved in the political process and who desire to see Christian ethics dominate in the arena of debate.



Patrick L. Hurd
Weatherford, Texas

EST. 01/01/01