Vindiciae Legis, or A Vindication of the Morall Law and the Covenants (PDF)

By Anthony Burgess.

Link to PDF file:

BURGESS, Anthony. A Vindication of the Moral Law and the Covenants (1647)

Introductory note by Alejandro Moreno Morrison

The full subtitle of the original edition is: A Vindication of the Morall Law and the Covenants, From the Errours of Papists, Arminians, Socinians, and more especially, Antinomians. In XXX Lectures, preached at Laurence-Jury, London. This facsimile edition is taken from second edition, corrected and augmented (London: James Young, 1647), and published by Reformation Heritage Books (Grand Rapids, 2011).

On the crucial importance and unique significance of this book as a testimony of the true Reformed Christianity, and more particularly of the true Reformed Presbyterianism that is faithful to the Westminster Standards, Stephen J. Casselli writes the following in the third page of the “Introduction” to the facsimile edition shared above:

On January 25, 1645, [Anthony Burgess] was elected vicar of the Guildhall church of St. Lawrence Jewry, where his lectures on the law would eventually be delivered. The timing for the call and delivery of these lectures is significant. Burgess delivered these lectures in the midst of the Assembly’s discussion and debates regarding the law of God, and Vindiciae legis provides exegetical and theological rationale, consonant with the teaching of chapter XIX of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

In footnote 11, Casselli further elaborates:

The foreword preceding the title page of Vindiciae legis calling for the publication of Burgess’s lectures is dated June 11, 1646, and this is a significant clue to understanding its historical milieu. It is clear that the lectures were delivered some time in the months preceding June of 1646. This is important because we also know that on November 18, 1645, the writing of the section on the law for the Confession of Faith was referred to the third committee, of which Anthony Burgess was a member. A report on the law was then made to the plenary session by John Wincop on January 7, 9, 12, 13, 29, and February 2 and 9, 1646…

Casselli’s sources are Alex F. Mitchel & John Sturthers, eds., The Minutes of the Sessions of the Westminster Assembly of Divines (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, 1847; p. 178); and Benjamin B. Warfield, The Westminster Assembly and Its Work (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931; p. 112).

It is worth noting that the “Antinomian Errours” circulating in England around 1645-6 were connected to the moral scepticism and antinomianism that developed in Lutheran circles in the 17th century.  In his book Natural Law and Moral Philosophy: From Grotius to the Scottish Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996; pp. 25-6), Knud Haakonssen explains as follows the line of thought of such moral scepticism and antinomianism:

Nothing that a person can be or make of himself will justify him before God; only faith justifies, and that only by God’s grace. Our duty towards God is thus infinite, and we may view our temporal life as a network of unfulfillable duties, which natural law theory may put into systematic form and give such worldly justification as our limited understanding permits. On the other hand, if our duty is really infinite and unfulfillable, then it is hard to see it as a possible guide to action; it provides no criterion for what behaviour to choose. We therefore can live only by faith. This strongly antinomian line was adopted by a great many sects at the Reformation and later and must undoubtedly be regarded as a target no less important than moral scepticism for Protestant natural law theory.

Also in his Introduction to this facsimilar edition, Casselli explains that in Burgess’s lectures the:

…development of the doctrine of the law and the covenants was worked out by the careful exegesis of particular texts, including detailed attention to grammatical and lexical features of the text. [Also]…thoughtful dialogue with the catholic theology of the Western church, a sophisticated interaction with contemporary interpretive traditions, and eye to ecclesiastical concerns, and a sensitivity to the progress of revelation leading to its culmination in the person and work of Jesus Christ…

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