by Josiah Audette
The following is a lecture I delivered to a local congregation on the subject of the establishment and application of law in society.
As Christians our mission is to be self-conscious and comprehensive in our commitment to Christ. Being so, it behoves us to examine what points our powerful, wise, and good Creator has decreed in the realm of civil law for our conformity. Hence the early practice of Election Sermons and Political Sermons in the Chruch. As early as 1633 sermons were printed at government expense and distributed throughout New England on Election day to inform the local Christian assembly on which votes would preserve and perfect the Christian society of America that particular election year. (Today, such partisanship would be a nearly illegal practice for any registered Church or Charitable association in Canada.) With regards to Election Sermons Dr. Joseph Morecract lll commentated, “It was the earnest prayer of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century preachers of the gospel that through the preaching and teaching of the Holy Bible God would create, preserve and perfect a genuinely Christian and thoroughly Biblical social, moral and political order in America for the glory of God.” This observation could not be illustrated more poignantly than in David Greg’s Election Sermon from 1896. “As patriotic Christians there is only one cry in our souls, and that is, ‘America for Christ! Christ for America!’ I mean to push this motto; I push it on three grounds: for America’s sake, for the world’s sake, for Christ’s sake.” In the early days of our own nation, the pulpit was a powerful instrument in society for good, as it was the depositor of the pure doctrines of Scripture. Within the past century and to this day it has also been employed as a force of evil, proclaiming the doctrines of man. The state of the Christian religion in our nation faces the same inditement stated by the prophet Hosea, “My people die for a lack of knowledge.” This includes a lack of knowledge in the discipline of law. It lies upon the preachers and the patriarchs in this present famine of doctrine to fearlessly proclaim the whole counsel of God for the whole life for the whole nation.
Furthermore is is our obligation as Christian citizens to be cognizant of our nation’s laws. With the printing in 1771 of “Commentaries on the Laws of England” by history’s foremost jurist, Sir Lord William Blackstone, citizens of the English Commonwealth from every social class became educated on England’s Common Law. Blackstone’s was the first methodical treatise on law suitable for the laity readership since the middle ages. Blackstone’s work birthed a social reformation in the lay English like unto Calvin’s Institutes. Blackstone wrote, “I think it an undeniable position, that a competent knowledge of the laws of that society, in which we live, as the proper accomplishment of every gentleman and scholar; and highly useful, I had almost said essential part of liberal and polite education.” Such advice sounds alien to our culture where the education of law has been next to abandoned. It is a pitiful thing when a nation’s citizens are ignorant and dispassionate of their nation’s laws, never mind when Christian citizens are.
HEAR, O ISRAEL
Law was a crucial facet in Christian and citizen education. Reverend Jasper Adams, for instance, delivered a Political Sermon entitled, “The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States” in 1833 at St. Michael’s Church in Charleston, South Carolina. As stated previously, Blackstone wrote the first works on law since the Middle Ages for the English laity in 1771. Yet, beyond these great examples and men in history, is the record in Scripture declaring the importance of God’s people acknowledging God’s law for His nation. Such is the overriding purpose of the first five books of Scripture. The repeated cry from Moses and Joshua of “Hear, O Israel” as they expounded the laws of God for the rule of nations indisputably shows to us the place and importance of Christian Citizens being competent on the establishment and application of law. Despite the example of Church history, Western Civilization’s history, and Scripture’s prioritizing of the knowledge of law, Western Christian citizens today are next to incompetent in this sphere. Once again, it lies upon the preachers and the Christian patriarchs in to proclaim fearlessly the whole counsel of God for the whole life for the whole nation.
RULE OF ACTION
The simplest, yet most profound question we could commence with would be an inquiry into what precisely law is. Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England wrote, “Law, in it’s most general and comprehensive sense, signifies a rule of action.” This qualifies for any action indiscriminately. We have laws of physics, chemistry, logic, as well as nature and nations. Each of these rational, physical, or meta-physical spheres have rules of action which we call laws. Whether it be the scientific law of gravitation or the jurisprudent law of Gavelkind (An inheritance law in parts of England) each sphere has its rules of action.
THE NATURE OF LAW
Before we inquire into the origins of law we first must observe the presuppositions regarding the nature of law. Since law is indeed defined as a rule of action, laws are thus established in society to rule the actions of men in accordance to an explicit moral concept. Douglas Phillips Esquire stated, “All law is either explicitly moral in nature or procedural to a moral concept.”
Law, ruling the action of men, is an imposition of morality, and morals are the principles of a religious order. R.J. Rushdoony commentated in Volume One of “The Institutes of Biblical Law”, “Because law governs man and society, because it establishes and declares the meaning of justice and righteousness, law is inescapably religious.” There is no more such a thing as a religiously neutral law than a morally neutral law. Thus, all law is by nature moral and all law is by nature religious.
HATH GOD SAID?
Consequentially, the next systematic query would be with regards to the origins of such law, specifically the general signification of law in society and civil spheres. In other words, whom or what is the ultimate lawgiver? Herein lies the historical contention. Where is law derived from? Ballot Votes? Experiences? Nature? Customs? Evidential Data? Capricious whims? Before you answer, understand from the previous conclusion of the religious nature of law that whomever is the lawgiver in society is the cultural superior in society. As all social law is religious, in any culture the source of law is the god of that culture. Hence Lord Blackstone continued his definition of law to state, “Law is a rule of action dictated by some superior being.” Whom is that superior being? Whom dictates the moral rules of action? Whom is the ultimate lawgiver? On this point, every government, every civil magistrate, every citizen, every Christian citizen is faced with two choices 1. Acknowledge God as the lawgiver. 2. Reject God as the lawgiver. Your answer will hinge on your presupposition of who man is. Is he considered the superior being as the humanist would tout? Or is he to be considered a creature of the Creator as the Christian man, historic Western Civilization, and the Common Law affirms? Sir Lord Blackstone, both a superior jurist and a Christian wrote on the Common Law that, “Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his Creator, for he is entirely a dependent being… as man depends absolutely upon his Maker for every thing, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his Maker’s will.” It is either God’s law or Man’s law. Contemporary Christians want to place their foot in the Sovereignty of God’s law and the other in the autonomy of Man’s Humanistic law. Yet in so doing, they sacrifice the sovereignty of God and hold the sovereignty of humanist man in establishing and applying the religious rule of actions. It is either God’s law or chaos.
IRON ROD OF ARBITRARY SWAY
Historically there are three concepts of law. The first is Legal Positivism. This is a rationalist and humanist doctrine which states that law is not ever fixed but evolves based on the absolute democracy of a society. Consequentially laws are established and abolished dependent upon the social standards of the culture. Yesterday the democratic ballot box legalized divorce, today homosexuality, tomorrow beastiality. Yesterday murder was illegal, today we passed abortion, tomorrow Euthanasia. The humanist is a busy man. John Cotton best summed it up, “The more any Law smells of man the more unprofitable.” In such a humanist system there are no transcendent principles and historical law holds no significance indeed. Lord Blackstone stated in direct contrast, “The law of nature, being co-eval with mankind and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times; no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force, and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original.” In Western Civilization law has steadily moved away from God as the lawgiver to that of the people, although historically it was acknowledge the law was vested in God. One of the modern laudations for Legal Positivism today is that it is a system of tolerance. Tolerance to all political, ethical, moral, and religious concepts. On this point R.J. Rushdoony wrote the following, “There can be no tolerance in a law-system for another religion. Toleration is a device used to introduce a new law-system as a prelude to a new intolerance. Every law-system must maintain its existence by hostility to every other law-system and to alien religious foundations or else it commits suicide.” Legal Positivism would be better identified as a the Legal Pendulum of depraved social standards, one which Jasper Adams forewarned of as the “Iron rod of arbitrary sway.”
The second law system is that of Natural Law. This position was held by Thomas Aquinas, namely, that man can observe laws within nature to determine between good and evil. This doctrine does not fully cohere to the doctrine of Total Dipravity and presupposes that man’s mind or conscience is still naturally pure. There are laws over nature which theologians term as “General Revelation”, but nonetheless, due to the fall, the totality of man has been deprived by sin thus rendering general revelation as insufficient and inferior. Rushdoony clarified, “There is no law in nature but a law over nature, God’s law.”
We as Christians hold to the view of Higher Law or Divine Law, affirming that God has revealed Himself in Scripture and that revelation is sufficient for all of life, including law. This position is the most contested of all in society today. Sir Lord Blackstone gives a clear introduction to this concept of law, “Now that his [Mans] reason is corrupt, and his understanding full of ignorance and error. This has given manifold occasion for the benign interposition of divine providence; which, in companion to the frailty, the imperfection, and the blindness of human reason, hath been pleased, at sundry times and in divers manners, to discover and enforce it’s laws by an immediate and direct revelation. The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed or divine law, and they are to be found only in the holy Scriptures.” It is a modern heresy that denies the validity of Scripture as the depositor of civil law. It is a false, antinomian (Anti-Law) notion to state that either Biblical law has no binding force for society or that it is separate from civil and social law. Law is a moral rule of action from a religious concept bestowed by a superior being without change, disestablishment, or tolerance to any other religious law order. Thus again there are two choices. 1. Acknowledge God as the lawgiver. 2. Reject God as the lawgiver.
NATURE OF THE LAWGIVER
Scripture, the Church, historic Western Civilization, and the English Common Law all affirm God being the lawgiver through his Special Revelation. Let me give a lengthy quote from Blackstone on the nature of God, the Lawgiver. “Considering the creator only as being of infinite power, he was able unquestionably to have prescribed whatever laws he pleased to his creature, man, however unjust or severe. But as he is also a being of infinite wisdom, he has laid down only such laws as were founded in those relations of justice, that existed in the nature of things antecedent to any positive precept. These are the eternal, immutable laws of good and evil, to which the creator himself in all his dispensations conforms; and which he has enabled human reason to discover, so far as they are necessary for the conduct of human actions… As therefore the creator is a being not only of infinite power, and wisdom, but also of infinite goodness, he has been pleased to contrive the constitution and frame of humanity, that we should want no other prompter to enquire after and pursue the rule of right, but only our own self-love, that universal principle of action. For he has so intimately connected, so inseparably interwoven the laws of eternal justice with the happiness of each individual, that the latter cannot be attained but by observing the former; and if the former be punctually obeyed, it cannot but induce the latter. In consequence of which mutual connection of justice and human felicity, he has not perplexed the law of nature with a multitude of abstracted rules and precepts, referring merely to the fitness or unfitness of things as some have vainly surmised; but graciously reduced the rule of obedience to this one paternal precept, “that man should pursue his own happiness.” And so by our Lawgiver’s powerful, wise, and good will we are at liberty to do whatever the law permits in pursuing our own happiness.
THE PRINCIPLES OF LAW
As Douglas Phillips Esq. delineated, there are six principles which drive Higher Law.
1. Transcendence; Law is over society, individuals, and nations. Blackstone stated, “Upon two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these. There is, it is true, a great number of indifferent points, in wchih both the divine law and the natural leave man at his own liberty; but which are found necessary for the benefit of society to be restrained within certain limits… and act in subordination to, the former… If any human law should allow or injoin us to commit it, we are bound to transgress that human law, or else we must offend both the natural and the divine.”
2. Sovereignty; The Lawgiver is the sovereign. Again, it is either the summum bonum of God’s law or chaos. Rushdoony wrote, “If power is from God, then God’s law must prevail; if power be from the people, then the people’s will shall prevail, and there is no principle of law above and over the people.”This principle of sovereignty, though, does not exclude extra-Biblical laws so long as they are in subordination of or procedural to the moral concepts of Biblical law. Or to state it negatively, so long as they do not transgress the sovereign Higher Law. Blackstone commentated, “Those rights then which God and nature have established, and are therefore called natural rights, such as are life and liberty, need not the aid of human laws to be more effectually invested in every man than they are; neither do they receive any additional strength when declared by the municipal laws to be inviolable. No human legislature has power to abridge or destroy them.”
3. Mercy; There is a time and a place such that law-breakers can be reestablished. The principle of restitution and restoration to society is basic to Biblical law. The offender is guilty before God and before the offended man, to whom he makes direct restitution. Upon so doing he is reestablished into society. The offenders punishment or amount to restore is measured in appropriation to the loss of the offended man. Hence the oft misinterpreted text, “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” is not some barbaric act of literal retaliation, but rather a principle of restitution to the offended and restoration of the offender. It was in the Middle Ages when this Biblical principle of mercy began to be infringed upon. Feudal barons and mediaeval ecclesiastical powers exacted vengeance upon the offender in forfeiting his property to themselves rather than to the neglected victim. Thus, restitution to the offended was degraded into restitution to the state. In modern day we have shifted from restitution, to deportation, to detention, and now to rehabilitation. This is a modern humanist convention of attempting the rehabilitation of the offender by placing him in a controlled environment. But in truth, caging a man will tame him no more than caging an animal. Incarceration is a subsidy to the criminal and a tax penalization to the innocent and the offended. It shows no mercy to the caged offender or the deprived offended. Whereas, the Biblical principle of law mercifully reestablishes the offender and restores to the offended. This subject could easily be a lecture unto itself.
4. Immutability; Law does not change. There are such things as transcendent principles which cannot move with the iron rod of arbitrary sway, and there is such a thing as historical law. The Common Law holds such as Blackstone wrote, “For it is an established rule to abide by former precedents, where the same points come again in litigation; as well to keep the scale of justice even and steady, and not liable to waver with every new judge’s opinion… He being sworn to determine, not according to his own private judgment, but according to the known laws and customs of the land; not delegated to pronounce a new law, but to maintain and expound the old one. Yet this rule admits of exception, where the former determination is most evidently contrary to reason; much more if it be contrary to the divine law… For if it be found that the former decision is manifestly absurd or unjust, it is declared, not that such a sentence was a bad law, but that it was not law.” What an illustration of the immutability of Higher Law and its procedural laws.
5. Justice; God is the God of justice. Blackstone noted, “We must therefore observe, that the main strength and force of a law consists in the penalty annexed to it… for rewards, in their nature, can only persuade and allure; nothing is compulsory but punishment.” Again we see the power, wisdom, and goodness of God in the punishment of evil and the rewarding of the righteous.
6. Love; When we execute justice we bring peace to society.
THE DIRECTION OF LAW
In Biblical law we first observe that it asserts broad principles. Such as the Decalogue. Rushdoony wrote, “The Ten Commandments are not therefore laws among laws, but are the basic laws, of which the various laws are specific example.” Second, the law asserts cases to develop the implication of these principals or basic laws. Thirdly and finally is the application of the law to restore God’s order. The clearest example of this process is given by the Apostle Paul. In the Decalogue we read the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” This is a basic law and a declaration of principle. Later in the Pentateuch we read a case example of this with the record of, “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.” Finally Paul draws from the principle and its example the application that the laborer is worthy of his reward, so buttressing the requirement of elders being worthy of double honor. This legal syllogism starts in asserting if it is a sin to defraud an ox of its livelihood, then it also a sin to defraud a man of his wages, and it is theft in both instances. Without case law, the ten commandments would be reduced to an extremely limited sphere of meaning.
Now there are those who will raise objections to the notion of Higher Law. Some state that this is Old Testament, the Christian is free from the law, or Christ came to abolish the law. All these objections are essentially antinomian, namely, anti-law positions. There is however no warrant in Scripture for antinomianism. Rushdoony wrote, “The believer is dead to the law as an indictment, a legal sentance of death against him. The believer is alive to the law as the righteousness of God.” In other words, we are restored to a position of law-keeping with God and delivered from the judgment due to our hitherto law-breaking. Our position to the law has changed, but the law itself has not. The law remains central to God’s character and covenant.
WHAT OF GRACE?
What of grace then? Grace does no more abolish the law, rather, “The law is given to the people saved by grace as their way of grace, to set forth the privilege and blessing of the covenant” wrote Rushdoony. Scripture gives a remarkable illustration of the relationship between law and grace. When did God give the people of Israel the ten commandments? Was it before they were redeemed out of Egypt, or after they had crossed the Red Sea and been delivered by God? Of course it was after. There is no justification or salvation by the law, and it was certainly not so for the Israelites. Their deliverance out of bondage was not contingent upon their obedience to the law of God. On the contrary, God, in his grace and mercy, first delivered the Israelites out of the land of bondage and then bestowed them with his law covenant. The law was given to the people saved by grace as their way of grace, to set forth the privilege and blessing of the covenant. Dr Greg Bahsen stated, “An interest in the law of God and the principles of Biblical morality is not contrary to a religion of grace but precisely subservient to a religion of grace.” Dr. J. Gresham Machen taught a low view of the law will always bring legalism in religion because man’s law will be substituted for Gods. But a high view of the law, which shows us our error, our failure, our inedibility to keep it perfectly, forces men to become seekers of grace. For those who honor the law of God, must honor the Son of God, recognizing they have no standing in God’s sight because of obedience to the law. Legalism is avoided and grace is exalted when we have a high view of the law. Christ stated this further in Matthew 5, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Here Christ states that he did not come to abolish the law, but rather to do the very opposite. To establish, to fulfill, to confirm them, to put them into effect. Furthermore he indicts those who have a low view of law as being the least in the kingdom of heaven, and praises those who have a high view of the law as being the greatest. Moreover, he rebukes the pharisees for having a low view of law by replacing God’s law with theirs and commends others to hold to a higher view of the law than that of the pharisees.
WHAT OF LOVE?
The same is for love. Love does not replace the law so that we now live by the law of love as some argue from Romans 14:10. (“Love is the fulfillment of the law.) Love is not legislative, it is beyond its ability to form rules. But true love, must be moral, it must be guided be rules of action. Love is to be a particular observance of the moral law. Therefore you cannot have love without law. Dr Morecraft stated, “Law is the eye of love and without law, love is blind. Love is the soul of law and without love, law is dead.” Machen taught that love, no more than law, is not the means of salvation, but rather the finest fruit of it. Man is saved by faith not law and not love; but he is saved by faith in order that he may love and keep the law. Love has no legislative power and it needs the direction and structure of law.
THE FIRST AMENDMENT
Some still contest though that Biblical law ought to have nothing to do with the state. But as Rushdoony stated, “Civil law cannot be separated from Biblical law, for the Biblical doctrine of law includes law, civil, ecclesiastical, social, familial, and all other forms of law.” As I stated in the beginning of this lecture Jasper Adams preached a political sermon which addressed this issue. At the time Congress had passed the first amendment, which we all know states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This amendment is oft misinterpreted to mean that Congress shall pass no law or establish any law-system that is religious. But we have already concluded that all law and law-systems are intrinsically religious. Congress of course was aware of this reality of law, so what was the reason of this enactment? Prior to the amendment, States had been giving legal preference to certain sects of the Christian faith whether it was Puritan Churches or the Church of England etc… In the first amendment the States of America discontinued giving this legal preference to their respective Christian sects and denominations. In doing so they did not renounce all connection of the Commonwealth to the Christian religion, but rather discontinued legal preference to one Christian denomination to the next. Jasper Adams in his sermon entitled, “The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States” defended this point saying, “The people of the United States have retained the Christian religion as the foundation of their civil, legal, and political institutions; while they have refused to continue a legal preference to any one of its forms over any other.” But what exactly was the States purpose in doing so? What was the inherit evil or danger in giving legal preference to the Church of England in a Particular state over the Puritan Church for instance? Here again Rev. Adams clarified “To have given a legal preference to any one form of Christianity over another, would have been to depart from the usage of primitive times, and to sanction abuses to which it was no longer necessary to adhere. To have refused others the free exercise of religion, whatever this might be, would have been illebral and at variance with the spirit of the age. They wisely chose the middle course; the only course in fact warranted by Scripture, by experience and by primitive usage. They rightly considered their religion as the highest of all their interests, and refused to render it in any way or in any degree subject to governmental interference or regulations.” Again, this was not a denial of the Christian religion Adams argued, but rather, “The people of the United States having, in this most solemn of all their enactments, professed themselves to be a Christian nation; and having expressed their confidence that all employed in their service will practice the duties of the Christian faith; and having, moreover, granted to all others the free exercise of their religion, have emphatically declared, that Congress shall make no change in the religion of the country.” America indisputably had professed themselves to be a Christian nation in the founding documents of their colonial settlements, by their colonial history, by their Constitutions of government, by the laws, and finally by the societies uniform Christian practice. Adams rebuked those who praised the amendment to mean the disestablishment of the Christian religion. “If the community shall ever become convinced, that Christianity is not entitled to the sustaining aid of the Civil constitution and law of the country, the outposts of the citadel will have been taken, and its adversaries may successfully proceed in their work of undermining and destroying it.” What a prophetic warning for our day.
HOW THEN SHALL WE LIVE?
Scripture is sufficient for all of life, including the practice of civil law. We live in an age were our citizens rage against the historic law of the land with their Legal Positivism. They have taken the citadel with their Iron Rod of Arbitrary Sway and are proceeding in undermining and destroying the Sovereignty of Scripture and the History of Western Civilization. With this reality in mind, I would close with a quote from Jasper Adams political sermon. “Not will it be sufficient for any of us to say, that we have not been active participators in undermining and destroying our religion; we cannot escape crime, if it shall be destroyed by our neglect or indifference… If, therefore, Christianity is permitted to decline among us, we cannot fold our arms in silence and be free from all personal responsibility. As a citizen of our country, no man can escape criminality, if he believes in the truth of Christianity, and still, without making resistance, sees its influence undermined and destroyed.” And so I say again, it lies upon the preachers and the patriarchs in this present famine of doctrine to fearlessly proclaim the whole counsel of God for the whole life for the whole nation.