Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lex Rex - Law is King

The Scot Samuel Rutherford (1600 – 1661), Scottish commissioner at the Westminster Assembly in London, wrote Lex Rex: Law is King which became the clearest example of the Reformation principle of the people’s political control of their sovereign. Rutherford laid down in writing a concept of freedom without chaos; a government of law rather than the arbitrary decisions of relative men. There was order because the Bible provided a foundation for law. This far exceeded the Conciliar Movement and Medieval parliaments which were established on arbitrary church pronouncements that changed with the political wind of the time.

Rutherford’s work had a profound effect on the formation of the United States Constitution. John Witherspoon became president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) in 1768 and followed in the course of Samuel Rutherford. He profoundly influenced the writing of the Constitution establishing forms and freedoms of the principles found in Rutherford’s Lex Rex. Witherspoon was educated at Edinburgh University in Scotland and immigrated to the American colonies. Witherspoon was a member of the Continental Congress from 1776 – 1779 and 1780 – 1782. He became the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence and was chairman of several important committees.

John Locke (1632-1704) secularized the Presbyterian Lex Rex tradition. Locke stressed inalienable rights, government by consent, separation of powers, and the right of revolution. The Biblical background gave Locke’s whole system a firm foundation which is found in Rutherford’s work. Locke’s empiricism, revealed in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), has no place for “natural rights.” Empiricism rests everything on experience. “Natural rights” must be innate to the nature of man and not merely based on experience or must have an adequate base distinct from experience. Locke clearly stated the results which came from a Christian base but did not have the foundation which produced them. Hence he secularized Christian principles and teaching.

The belief in the law of nature preceded John Locke by thousands of years. Locke’s belief in an original “state of nature” is difficult to reconcile with the biblical account of creation. His view of children beginning life with a "blank slate" is difficult to reconcile with “original sin” as proclaimed in Psalm 51:2 and 58:3. Locke did believe in special creation. He did place faith in man’s power of reason but also recognized that reason is a gift from God. He was neither an agnostic nor a deist. He believed that reason demonstrates the veracity of God’s perfect revelation, the New Testament.

John Locke was a dedicated Christian as well as a student of the Bible.

“In 1695 Mr. Locke published his treatise of “The Reasonableness of Christianity,” in which he has proved that the Christian Religion, as delivered in the Scriptures, and free from all corrupt mixtures, is the most reasonable institution in the world… the last fourteen or fifteen years of his life Mr. Locke spent chiefly at Oates, seldom coming to town; and, during this agreeable retirement, he applied himself to the study of the scriptures…he admired the wisdom and goodness of God in the method found out for the salvation of mankind; and when he thought about it, he could not forbear crying out, “Oh the depths of the riches of the goodness and knowledge of God,” He was persuaded that men would be convinced of this, by reading the scriptures without prejudice; and he frequently exhorted those with whom he conversed to a serious study of these sacred writings. His own application to this study had given him a more noble and elevated idea of the Christian religion.”

John Locke recognized that the “law of nature” had it origin and authority in God.

“Thus the ‘law of nature’ stands as an Eternal Rule to all Men, Legislators as well as others. The Rules that they make for other Men’s Actions, be conformable to the Law of Nature, i.e., to the Will of God, of which that is a Declaration, and the fundamental Law of Nature being preservation of Mankind, no Human Sanction can be good, or valid against it.”

The English jurist William Blackstone's Commentaries reduced English common law to the writing. Blackstone believed that all law had its origins in God, and identified various types of law: scientific law is law as order in the universe; the rule of human action, rules of action dictated by a superior beings; laws of nations, international laws based on compacts, treaties, leagues, and agreements; and municipal law, enacted laws of local government.


“Revealed law. – This has been given manifold occasion for the benign interposition of divine providence; which, in compassion to the frailty, the imperfection, and the blindness of human reason, hath been pleased, at sundry times and in diverse manners, to discover and enforce its laws by an immediate and direct revelation. The doctrines just delivered we call the revealed or divine law, and they are to be found only in the Holy Scriptures. These precepts, when revealed, are found upon comparison to be really a part of the original law of nature, as they tend in all their consequences to man’s felicity. But we are not from thence to conclude that the knowledge of these truths was attainable by reason, in its present corrupted state; since we find that, until they were revealed, they were hid from the wisdom of the ages. As then the moral precepts of this law are indeed of the same original with those of the law of nature, so their intrinsic obligation is of equal strength and perpetuity. Yet undoubtedly the revealed system is of infinitely more authenticity than that moral system, which is framed by ethical writers and denominated the natural law. Because one is the law of nature, expressly declared so to be by God Himself, the other is only what, by the assistance of human reason, we imagine to be that law. If we could be as certain of the latter as we are of the former, both would have an equal authority; but, till then, they can never be put in any competition together.”

According to Blackstone, our ability to apprehend the law of nature is limited because man is in a corrupted state due to the Fall from his first estate while in the Garden of Eden. He strongly believed the "law of nature" is the "will of God" and is binding on mankind.

“Law of nature – This will of his Maker is called the law of nature. For as God, when He created matter, and endued it with the principle of mobility, established certain rules for the perpetual direction of that motion; so, when He created man, and endued him with free will to conduct himself in all parts of life, He laid down certain immutable laws of human nature, whereby that free will is in some degree regulated and restrained, and gave him also the faculty of reason to discover and purport of those laws."

"Considering the Creator; only a 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 found 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 are necessary for the conduct of human actions. Such, among others, are these principles: that we should live honestly, should hurt nobody, and should render to everyone his due, to which three general precepts Justinian has reduced the whole doctrine of law."

The law of nature, being coeval with mankind as dictated by God Himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe and all countries, and at all times; no human laws are of any validity, in contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original. But in order to apply this to the particular exigencies of each individual, it is still necessary to have recourse to human reason; whose office it is to discover, as was before observed, what the law of nature directs in every circumstance of life; by considering, what method will tend most effectually to our own substantial happiness. And if our reason were always, as in our first ancestors before his transgression, clear and imperfect, unruffled by passions, unclouded by prejudice, unimpaired by disease or intemperance, the task would be pleasant and easy; we should need no other guide but this. But every man now finds the contrary in his own experience; that his reason is corrupt, and his understanding full of ignorance and error.”

John Locke and William Blackstone are recognized as those men who influenced American legal thinking more than other individuals. Baron Montesquieu, Algernon Sidney, John Calvin, John Milton, Thomas Hooker, John Cotton, Jonathan Edwards, John Witherspoon, and George Whitefield brought about universal acceptance of the natural rights philosophy of American patriots.

Thomas Jefferson was not an orthodox Christian but was strongly influenced by the biblical view of mankind. He was a noted student of the Scriptures and firmly believed in the "law of nature".

The opening paragraph of the Declaration of Independence speaks of people assuming among the powers of the earth, “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitled them.”

He then ascribes their origin to God:

“We hold these Truths to be self evident, that all Men are created (he did not say evolved) equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…”

He closes by “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions” and expressing a “firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence…” Jefferson recognizes and declares it is self evident that God is the author of natural law and unalienable rights.

The founders of our nation did not want to establish a “Christian state” but rather to establish a state that was based upon sound principles in accordance with the law of God as revealed in nature, conscience, and the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

6 comments:

James Renwick Manship, Sr. (StatesManship) said...

Warrington, PA is near Lambertville, NJ. Might you be the gentleman who I had the privilege to meet on Christmas evening?

I really like YOUR blog: Virtue, Liberty, and Independence. Very thorough presentation of the Christian foundation of our laws. You might be interested to know that Thomas Jefferson when a student under George Withe wrote "Evidences of Christianity from the Standpoint of a Lawyer".

Thank you for signing up as a friend or follower of two of my blogs, Appeal to Heaven, and Washington LIVES. There are over 40 others.

I have several emails, one is GW@PrayerWarrior.US.
Another is George@WashingtonLIVES.us

Please respond and let us chat by phone or email.

Have a blessed New Year!

James Renwick Manship, Sr.

Mikewind Dale said...

Very helpful article; thank you.

"Locke’s belief in an original 'state of nature' is difficult to reconcile with the biblical account of creation. His view of children beginning life with a 'blank slate' is difficult to reconcile with 'original sin'."

The way I read Locke, the state of nature is meant less as something that ever historically existed, and more as simply a convenient and helpful conceptual model. Whether or not events really did ever historically occur as Locke depicted them is irrelevant. Now, the fact is that Adam and Eve and Seth, etc. etc., were placed in a world without government, so the state of nature could have occurred exactly as Locke depicts it, for all we know. Likewise, after the Flood and after the Tower of Babel, there was no government either. But this really isn't the point. Locke simply offered a model for how a government could and ought to be formed, but not necessarily how it ever really was in history; whether things ever panned out this way is practice is not the point. What Locke was trying to do, I believe, is show how "all things being equal", a social-contract could be established; the state of nature eliminated unnecessary and extraneous variables and allowed Locke to conceptually start with a clean slate and illustrate a theoretical hypothetical social-contract without existing society and economy and politics getting his way. The point of the state of nature was not that it ever occurred historically, nor even that it could ever occur again, but only that it was convenient for his illustration.

And original sin isn't relevant here, either, I believe. The point of the state of nature is that there is no society, no economy, no politics, not even physical infrastructure, and so one can eliminate all extraneous variables and examine the formation of a government "all things being equal". In terms of society, politics, and economy, the slate is clean, but how clean or dirty human nature is, is a whole separate matter. (And so, I don't need to get into a discussion of how I, as a Jew, don't believe in original sin anyway.)

to be cont.

Mikewind Dale said...

cont. from above

I believe the state of nature is a useful concept even today. I have argued, for example, that vigilantism is perfectly valid, in and of itself (all things being equal), because an unjust government is equally in a state of nature as the absence of a government. If the government fails to uphold justice, then the power returns to the people, just the same as if there were no government at all. Obviously, of course, certain specific deeds done by vigilantes are ill-advised or even immoral; I'm not arguing that everything a vigilante might possibly do is necessarily just. One of Locke's proposed reasons for establishing a government is to transfer justice to an impartial and learned body, to remove justice from the hands of biased and passionate vigilantes. Someone who sees a certain political figure as evil and so assassinates him, could very well be grievously wrong and have just committed murder. I'm simply arguing that based on the state of nature, vigilantism, in and of itself, is still valid today, if and when the governmetn fails to properly execute justice. If someone kills a political figure, this act is potentially evil because the figure possibly did not deserve death, but if the act is in fact evil, it is so only because the figure was not deserving of death, but its evil has nothing to do with the vigilantism per se. (Indeed, why should a political figure be different from anyone else? If a citizen may be killed by his fellow in such-and-such conditions, then why should it be any different with government officials?) So there may be many reasons to criticize Yigal Amir (the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin), but his being a vigilante and killing a political figure cannot possibly be the basis for criticism; one can criticize Amir only by proving that Rabin was not deserving of death. Obviously, those who believe, like the Calvinists, that government officials are ordained and appointed and emplaced by G-d, will disagree with me.

Mikewind Dale said...

You may be interested in a book titled The Biblical View of Man by Rabbi Dr. Leo Adler (Urim Publications), a book which he wrote largely for non-Jewish consumption. Rabbi Adler was of the 19th-century Torah im Derekh Eretz German school of Orthodox Judaism, which was itself indebted to the pre-Expulsion (1492) Spanish Judaism of Maimonides and the like. As such, Rabbi Adler has a very worldly and enlightened view of the Torah, viewing the Torah, as the famous German Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch did, as an "anthropological theonomy", a man-centered G-dly law, i.e. a law from G-d given to man with the intent not of giving man abstract metaphysical truths, but instead of instructing man how to order his mundane life.

Rabbi Adler's book compares his understanding of the Biblical nature of man with the Christian and Greek views. Rabbi Adler had quite good relations with his Christian contempories, and the Urim Publications edition had an appendix containing a letter by Rabbi Adler to the editor of a Christian magazine. The editor had asked Rabbi Adler for an article about the Jewish view of Christmas, and Rabbi Adler replied that he respected and cherished his friendship with the Christian too much to write an article that would, after all, have very little friendly to say, and which would accomplish very little constructive (neither the Christians nor the Jews would be likely to influence each other, so why needlessly inflame matters?).

I am mentioning Rabbi Adler's book, because the more I learn about Protestantism, and especially Calvinism, the more I feel that of all Christians, they are the closest to what I see the Bible as saying (and I personally read the Bible through pre-Expulsion Spanish eyes - think Maimonides - and 19th-century German eyes - think Rabbis S. R. Hirsch and Leo Adler).

to be cont.

Mikewind Dale said...

cont. from above

I quote The History of the Jews of the Netherlands (Littman Library), p. 58: "Calvin's positive attitude to the Hebrew Bible, no less than the idea of divine election that plays so central a role in the Bible and in his own doctrine [if I'm not mistaken, the reference is to his emphasis on the covenant, which Calvin and even more Zwingli and Bullinger emphasized, even turning it into a political doctrine - Mikewind Dale], opened the door for a symbolic identification with the Jews that would have been inconceivable to the Catholic, humanist, or Lutheran traditions, even though Calvin often tempered this identification with a disapproval of the blindness of the Jews that fluctuated between compassion, contempt, and animosity. There is no doubt, however, that Calvin never incited his disciples to hatred of the Jews. In his later sermons, we can even detect signs of a fuller appreciation of the similarities between the fate of the persecuted Reform Christians and that of contemporary Jewry. Ultimately, the inestimable value of Calvin's teachings lies in the self-criticism that enabled his followers to identify themselves with biblical or contemporary Jews; neither the most comfortable nor the least ambivalent angle from which to gain a new view of Jews and Judaism."

Ibid., pp. 160f.: "The many religious polemics written by Sephardi [ = post-Expulsion Spanish] Jews [Dutch Jews were descendants of Sephardi Jews expelled from Spain, as opposed to the Ashkenazim from France and Germany and Eastern-Europe] during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries reflect a variety of attitudes towards Christianity; from extreme and general hostility, seeing Christianity as an idolatrous faith, to drawing a distinction between 'idolatrous' Catholicism and Reform Christianity, which had restored the Bible's true meaning. But the fact that they preferred Reformed Christianity, mainly Calvinism, to Catholicism did not prevent Sephardi writers of apologetics from fiercely disputing the bases of Calvin's doctrine. The subject of predestination and of the reward of the righteous received special attention in their polemical writings. Nevertheless, even the sharpest Jewish critics of the time had a soft spot for the Dutch Calvinists. Thus Isaac Orobio de Castro said of the Dutch Republic, 'May our Lord God sustain these [United Dutch] Provinces and confer upon them a surfeit of divine blessings, so that the purity of their righteousness will ensure that no main is forced to resort to sticks and stones.' (Kaplan, From Christianity to Judaism, 252-62.) These words have a special significance when one recalls that they were not written for publication."

Mikewind Dale said...

A historical clarification: the 19th-century German Jews were genetically and historically Ashkenazim (France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, etc.), but culturally and ideologically, they were Sephardim, i.e. Spanish. When the Enlightenment hit Germany, the uncultured and secularly-unlearned Ashkenazim were in disarray and many either secularized or became close-minded Ultra-Orthodox extremists. But Rabbi S. R. Hirsch used Spanish Judaism to adapt German Ashkenazi Judaism to modernity. After all, Spanish Judaism had already seen the Golden Age in Spain, when Greek philosophy was disseminated by the Arabs. Western-European Sephardim (in Britain, Holland, and Italy) had been engaged in the Renaissance since the 16th-century, and so they too were valuable inspiration. Rather than re-invent the wheel, the Ashkenazi Rabbi S. R. Hirsch in Germany simply took Sephardi (Spanish) Judaism as his model.

As I said, I see the Protestant, and especially Calvinistic, form of Christianity to be far more in consonance with Judaism and the Bible as I understand it, than Catholicism.

In particular, I've been reading a lot of Calvinistic federal political-theology recently. Obviously, Jews had little to say on politics for 2000 years, because we simply had no control over our political situation. So while I don't accept everything the Calvinists say on politics, I have found that by-and-large, what they say is an excellent starting point for me, and I'll Judaize what they say for myself.