Select Page

Essays on Ethics and Politics - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

Introduction to the Writings of Dr. Gordon Clark - Apologetics

Today, many Christians are turning back to the puritans to, “walk in the old paths,” of God’s word, and to continue to proclaim old truth that glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no new theology. In our electronic age, more and more people are looking to add electronic books (ePubs, mobi and PDF formats) to their library – books from the Reformers and Puritans – in order to become a “digital puritan” themselves. Take a moment to visit Puritan Publications (click the banner below) to find the biggest selection of rare puritan works updated in modern English in both print form and in multiple electronic forms. There are new books published every month. All proceeds go to support A Puritan’s Mind.

The following article is a summary of the various articles Clark wrote all through his life in various journals, dictionaries, etc. on Ethics and politics. This is a potpourri of various ideas that are summarized in paragraph form – many of which are very helpful.


Activism, in its extreme form, would be a life all of action and volition minus any knowledge of what one is doing or should do. In actuality, this is a regression to animalistic tendencies. American evangelicals seem to pick this up – they have zeal without knowledge. Altruism, the brother of Activism in many ways, rose in the late seventeenth century in England, and taught that all natural impulses and motives are self-seeking.


Anarchy is a theory that rejects established governments and that all desires are regulated only by voluntary agreements. The theory assumes that human nature is good and has no need to be kept in check. Christian anarchists (such as Independents and Anabaptists) claimed freedom from the law on the basis of liberation by Christ. Augustine, Luther and Calvin all argued that the reality and presence of sin necessitates civil government.

Calvinistic Ethics

To exist, Calvinistic ethics depends on revelation from God. The distinction between right and wrong is not a product of empirical observation. Calvin initiated almost a completely new structure to understanding the Ten Commandments when he incorporated them in his systematic overview of the Christian faith in the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Following Calvin the Westminster Confession of Faith devotes a chapter to the Law of God, as does the Westminster Larger Catechism in questions 91-151. Calvinistic Ethics sticks with the Bible and does not allow for other revelation or authority to creep into the church in any other forms than God ordains (i.e. preaching through the preacher). Calvinism, in comparing the law of God and sin, defines sin as any want of conformity to or transgression of the law of God. The Ten Commandments, then, stand as the basis for ethics for the Calvinistic Christian.

Moral Education

Can moral education be grounded on naturalism? Humanism, naturalism and atheism have no moral grounds for any morality whatsoever. Can an empirical philosophy, a philosophy that repudiates revelation, an instrumentalist or descriptive philosophy provide a ground for any moral prescriptions whatsoever? They cannot. Instead, they place moral issues on the ground of personal preference. All attempts are failures to infuse morality in a naturalistic system because there is no empirical knowledge sufficient to brand murder as wrong and private property as right. Any system of thought that denies a divine sanction of moral (for or against actions) fails to condemn murder, theft, adultery, but also fails to establish any universal laws or common distinction between right and wrong.

Capital Punishment

God gave capital punishment to men in both the Old Testament and the New Testament (Genesis 9:6; Romans 13:4). Capital punishment is an integral part of society and Christian ethics. Contemporary views to abolish capital punishment are a form of atheistic philosophy attempting to overshadow the divine sanction on the practice. The low value of human life seen in such an attempt occurs from the liberal penology that holds criminal law to be solely for the purpose of rehabilitating the convict. Some say that capital punishment does not deter criminals. It certainly deters the convicted criminal. God gave the right of capital punishment to human governments to restrain sin. Thus, an abolition of the death penalty presupposes the falsity of Christian principles. Some believe that the New Testament modifies the Old Testament in its ethics. This is nonsense. It was God who had foreordained that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. This involves the crucifixion and death of Christ. Thus, God’s ordination of that act presupposes the manner in which Christ would die as foreordained by God. God, then, foreordained crucifixion to be a used by the Roman state. There is a small shift between the Israeli nation-state and the governments of today. The judicial laws upon the nation state of Israel are no longer valid for other nation states with other governments. For this reason we do not have cities of refuge for police, and judicial protection is sufficient. We are not required to marry our brother’s widow, because the purpose of preserving his name and tribe is no longer in effect. However, capital punishment is something that is not absolutely necessary in order to execute every murderer (see God’s dealings with Cain). The question should really be, “Is capital punishment ever right?” The answer to this is “Yes.”

The Law and the Gospel

When dealing with the tension between the law and the Gospel, many have come to adopt a view that says, “we are not under law but under grace.” This is a quotation from the Apostle Paul in the book of Galatians, so it is good Scripture to quote. However, when people use this verse they are misunderstanding the use of the law and think that the law is no longer valid. Repudiation of the law sends one into gross sin. “Free from the law, O blessed condition, I can sin all I want and still have remission” is the song of the Antinomian. However, the law of God defines good and evil. Grace and law in the Old Testament is as much a reality as grace and law in the New Testament. One does not use the law to justify himself (Paul’s use of it in Galatians) but it does serve to create holiness, another use of the law, for the Christian. The law demonstrates to others that men are Christians. 2 Timothy 3:17 says, “ that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” There is no work which the Scriptures do not prepare the Christian for. The law demonstrates to the Christian what he is to do before God in obedience. This is not legalism. There is a great difference between legalism (working for one’s salvation) and obedience (obeying the commands of Christ out of desire for His glory and holiness). The Westminster Confession of Faith sums this up nicely, “The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it. Neither doth Christ, in the gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.” Freedom and liberty, if they are going to be used intelligibly in the Christians vocabulary, must be defined. One cannot simply say that they are “free from the law.” Rather, they must use these words in their respective contexts that demonstrate a threefold use of the law: one to justify – this is through Jesus Christ alone; one to restrain sin – this is the use of the state; one to benefit the sanctification of the Christian – this is obedience. Responsibility and morality, then, are inseparable. They give way to sanctification that presses the Christian to do good works.

The Civil Magistrate

Whenever one begins to think through ethics or politics in a Christian worldview, one will inevitably wind up talking about the Civil Magistrate at some point. Those who reject the divine institution of the Civil Magistrate wind up in some sort of totalitarian dictatorship. But the Christian should render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Christ knew that Caesar had an army, nor did he refuse to pay taxes to Rome. In Romans 13:4 the power of the sword is explicitly given to the Government to execute justice. All the Civil Magistrate has authority to protect the life, liberty, and possessions of their subjects.

Free Will

Most evangelicals have retracted orthodox ideas around free will to embrace Romanism. The Reformation, and those who followed, wrote vigorously against the Roman doctrine of free will. Luther wrote heavily against free will in his Bondage of the Will, and Calvin wrote against it in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. Jerome Zanchius was born a bit after Luther and wrote his work Absolute Predestination that thoroughly destroyed the Roman doctrine of free will. Even within Baptist circles John Gill wrote against free will in his book The Cause of God and Truth, and though he has a tendency toward certain hyper Calvinistic ideas, his work against free will in that volume is exceedingly helpful. Free will cannot be the natural liberty of indifference. Rather, the biblical position places man’s will not in indifference but in bondage to sin. Augustus Toplady in his voluminous works writes against Arminianism and free will very effectively. God does not offer the Gospel and hope that some will come and buy into it by persuasive arguments. God is the one who regenerates and saves, and without that power no man will ever be saved.

Physical Determinism

Physical Determinism is strictly mathematical and gives no purpose for anything. Logical determinism is the “what will be will be” formula. Determinism in the sense of the Reformation held to the decreed will of God that providentially governs everything that happens. This is theological determinism – it has a God behind the actions that take place which give life purpose. God, though, has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.


Egoism is the theory that the good of an individual should be the sole motive operative in human choice. This may be better known as hedonism. Thomas Hobbs improved this base form of egoism by saying that the sole motive of choice is not just individual, but of individual pleasure. But how can one place what is “good” with pleasure? How does one know what is good or what is not good? Egoism cannot insert virtue into any subjective act. Hedonism is the theory that pleasure is the highest good. But who’s pleasure is the criteria? A rapists?


Ethics concerns itself with the study of what is right and what is wrong. Various teachers through history have attempted to explain what ethics is and how ethics should work. The best procedure to study ethics is in its historical matrix. Plato had his “knowledge guarantees moral action” theory, where Aristotle had his “moral virtues have to do with feelings and action.” Thus, “contemplation” is the greatest of virtues since it is god-like. It is what the unmoved mover does all day long – contemplate himself. Unlike Plato and Aristotle, the Stoics were essentially pantheistic. But they had no revelation by which to teach them the values of ethics and as a result looked to the family and individuals as a result. Augustine based his ethics on the Bible and on the character of “love.” Since man is born in sin he cannot love and needs God to first change him in order for him to love. God makes men, through His efficacious Spirit, able to love. This is the highest form of morality, both in respect to god and to men. Thomas Aquinas tried to empirically discern actions by making differences between human beings and inanimate objects that are morally devoid. Choice to the law of God determines the virtue of any action. Ethics then concerns itself with the law of God. The eternal law of God rules the whole universe. As it is inscribed on human nature, it becomes legitimate tendencies of our nature or natural law. The first law of nature is self-preservation. The second law of nature is reproduction. The third law causes men to live rationally. Thomas Hobbs aimed at making ethics scientific, but failed miserably since science cannot insert value into language by observational facts. Bishop Joseph Butler tried to tie ethics to the consciences, but this became situational ethics. Jeremy Bentham attempted to make ethics a part of utilitarianism – the distinguishing of what makes pain and pleasure for an individual. The philosophical basis in psychological hedonism is this, “nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as determine what we should do.” Henry Sidgwick tried to give man the “view of the universe” in order to make a comprehensive statement about ethics in each situation. However, no man has the ability to know the whole universe. Immanuel Kant constructed a non-hedonistic and non-teleological system where moral qualities where entirely independent of actual consequences. This would mean that being a miser, a hero, or a suicide victim was morally equal. John Dewey tried to fabricate instrumentalism, a scientific ethic, which basically created a scientific philosophy that had no morals at all. Government, instead of conscience, should control men; even their very thoughts. He concluded that there are no fixed norms for human action. Scientific ideas and observations give meaning to situations where observations take place. This means, for Dewey, that murder is not bad. It could be good. Christianity, in contrast to most of those cited above, follows the law of God and has a basis for ethics in the Law and in its implications since it is divinely sanctioned. Christian morality depends upon Christian revelation. Christian revelation is set upon the immutable sovereign God of the universe who imposes laws on men. This God sets the basis for truth, and every formal fallacy of logic seen in the attempts at ethics through the centuries is completely satisfied. Morals are objective and they come from the immutable Sovereign God of the universe.


Abortion is an atrocity. It allows people, made in the image of God to be torn limb from limb and killed in their most helpless state. Abortion is legal because the US government has made it legal. By themselves, through the judiciary committee, they are negating the legal right of innocent persons to live. Having rejected God, they have become “gods” to themselves. If the atheism of Abortion is now the law of the land, then there is no morality at all. Secular science can tell people how something happens, but is has no right to tell people why they should value something or not value something else. It has no values. Value theory or axiology is a general theory based on the assumption that aesthetic value, moral value, political value, and physical value are all species of one genus. However, empiricism of this kind (irreligious rejection of the law of God) cannot establish values at all. The Supreme court, nine people out of two hundred and sixty million people, legalized the killing of children. This is an autocracy of evil dictators. The only difference between abortionists in the US and the cannibals in the Congo is that the abortionists here do not eat the babies. This is simply atheism in action. Various empiricists have tried to defined their immorals but there can be no value in their arguments because it is always and everywhere fallacious to insert into the conclusion a concept that appears nowhere in the premises. Abortion is then accepted based on relativism, and murder is treated like choosing chocolate or vanilla ice cream. None of it has value and so the choices are benign to the chooser. But God has a different view of everything.

The Reformation

The Reformation caused tremendous changes in the spiritual and ecclesiastical conditions of Europe. It was a harnessing of scholasticism into exegesis and practical theology. The Reformation propagated the theory of innate or a priori knowledge, where such is more attacked today than upheld. Its ethics surrounded the explicit commands of the Word of God, and relied on revelation given to men by God.

Good Works

Those who are opposed to sound theology and confessional statements through Church history cannot see much good for good works. All good works must come from God’s commands and should be empowered by the Holy Spirit if they are to be of any value. Sinful men cannot produce good works on their own; they need God’s help for this task. They need a purified heart for good works to take place at all. Men are not sick in sin, rather, they are dead in sin. Men need God in order to be rescued from this spiritual death, and they need invigorating life to work before God pleasingly.

Greek Ethics

Greek ethics during the Pre-Socratic period did not exist in any systematic form. Men like Heraclitus and Protagoras did not systematize their thoughts. It was not until later, around the time of Plato, that systematized ethics were established. They were essential to his whole system of thought. Aristotle even made a more detailed study of ethics but it was more detached from his main system of categories. It was only part of this thoughts, rather than encompassing all his thoughts. Aristotle thought “Happiness” was the goal of life. Augustine also thought that happiness was the goal of life, but in a far different sense than secular humanism thought. What is humanism? Secular humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created. This tends to press them to believe in “self” in a naturalistic universe and often create deities only for sources of philosophical inconsistencies that they need filled in their system. Humanism will advocate anything that makes “self” important, or “self” as justifier of ethics. Sex is fine if you want to do it. Abortion is fine if you do not think it is murder. But in this there are no values and secular humanism cannot come up with any value for anything. It really has nothing to say at all. It cannot define happiness or evil. God is truth, and to know God is wisdom. Blessedness before God, in knowing Him, is true happiness. Only the objective reality of the Bible teaches men this.


Human nature will give way to political theory. Whatever one believes about men will ultimately filter into political systems of thought. Plato thought that life was not determined by irrational desire, but by scientific knowledge of the Good. Men are created as threefold – rational and philosophical, man’s principle of volition, and man’s emotions. Since man is made of three parts, the State is also made of three parts, or three classes of people – spunk makes men soldiers, reason makes them middle class citizens, and philosophically gifted are those that control the State. Basically, this is a communism or totalitarianism. For Aristotle, the State grew out of the family. The state is a community of individuals. The state, then, controls individuals in the community, and so Aristotle too is a totalitarian. Pagan theories of government are almost always totalitarian. Hobbes made each man the king in his own castle and the determiner of that which is right. The states, then, for him, is the transfer of rights from individual men (who oppose anarchy) and give their rights to the king. Rousseau is a bit different. He did not want men to transfer their rights to the king, but to the community. Marx followed this to an extent, and then took it further to make men just part of a larger organism that holds rights to the whole community (communism). Biblically, God created the world and gave governments to men in order to check sinful men and restrain them. The state has been given the sword (Romans 13:4) and exercises it for the citizens of the state in protecting life, liberty and possessions. An acceptance of the Bible confirms a limited government. This is an acceptable justification of government, but it does not guarantee a government will act biblically. Tyranny throughout history demonstrates this.


Humanism is a combination of Unitarianism and modernism. Schleiermacher initiated modernism by replacing revelation with feelings. Humanism looks to itself and its own feelings to judge that which they think is right. However, experience can justify nothing and gives no basis for objective morals.

Hegelian Ethics

Hegelian ethics developed out of Kant’s attempt to escape Spinoza’s mechanistic worldview. Kant agreed that all motion was determined by laws of causation. Morality, however, had to presuppose God. Kant postulated that two worlds existed – the sensory world, and the noumenal world of things in themselves and God. Morality is then subjective and the most serious problem for morality is understanding true freedom. Though men cannot know if God is really there, they must live as though He does. Some call Kant a prophet like those of the Old Testament. However, his denial or morality against the Law of God in an objective knowable fashion repudiates such a notion. A simple reading of the Old Testament Bible would remedy such an accusation. Hegel then said that all people must conform the universal will of the Absolute Good. Freedom for men arises when he gives himself over to the state and sacrifices the individual “self” for a higher “self” in the Absolute good. But morality consists only in self –realization, not in a noumenal absolute good that cannot be known. Morality cannot consist in utilitarian pleasure.


Herman Dooyeweerd discusses cosmic time and in this discussion he treats modal spheres and morality. Everything, he says, is eschatological in nature. Everything is moving toward recognizing the ultimate sphere of the end. There are spheres of plant life, spheres of ethics, politics and so on. Spheres are basically areas of life or categories to place areas of life within. But what does he mean by this? Is the crucifixion of Christ eschatological? If it is, then it did not take place in historical time. Spheres are something the Bible cannot speak on because it does not address these things. As a result, Dooyeweerd says the Bible cannot inform us, really, on God, ethics or anything else. DeGraff follows Dooyeweerd and pushes his ideas to the next level. Different cultures have different spheres, so how can the commandments be applied to every culture, or the situations with Abraham apply to men today? But instead, the Bible tells us that men should be filled with the knowledge of God found in the Scriptures, and to apply those to daily life. In contrast to the strange subjectivity of situational ethics of Dooyeweerd the Bible places truth and life in objective form of the Word of God.


Christ said, “swear not at all.” But did he mean that there are no oaths at all that should be taken? Genesis 24:2, Exodus 13:19; Joshua 9:18-20 all have oaths. God swears as well; Isaiah 45:23. The New Testament also shows God swearing in Hebrews 6:13 and 16. But this is different than that which Christ taught. Christ did not want men trivializing oaths. It was the practice to do so, and the list Christ gives in rebuffing this as men swear on their own heads, or on the temple, or on heaven, demonstrates the truth of it.


Most of the time the Puritans are misrepresented in their outlook on life and their lifestyle in general. They were not enemies of pleasure, and they did not simply wear woeful, drag clothing because they thought clothing was inherently evil. They were moral giants who desired to see the law of God stand firm in the family, church and society. Some men like Perry Miller desire to see men turn away from the “rigors” of Puritanism. But today, what is needed, is a return to the values of the Puritan ideal. Joseph Fletcher, for example, has attempted to institute a situational ethics that every Puritan would have vomited over. Fletcher says that adultery is ok because each situation may warrant something that another situation did not. Each individual should determine what those morals are in any given circumstance. Adultery, for Fletcher, could be comprised of “love.” But this is debasement. Fletcher says, “Principle, yes, Rules, no.” The Puritans held strongly to the law of God and how God determined what is good and what is not across the board. Situational ethics is nothing more than an attempt to justify personal sin on different occasions. Men like DeGraff and Seerveld try to then take the Bible out of the picture in order to substantiate personal preference. But the Bible overthrows this completely, because any system without objective truth runs amuck as subjective relativism. One must then choose between the puritan ideal of the commandments, and the impuritan sin of Fletcher, DeGreaff and Seerveld.

Offsite Banner Ad:

Help Support APM

Search the Site

Reformed Theology at A Puritan's Mind