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Purposes for God's Laws

The Three Purposes of God’s Law — An Answer to the U.N. Disabilities Treaty

 

The U.N. Convention treaty on the Rights of People With Disabilities has been held up in the U.S. Senate now for about a week. Although it was signed by President Obama in 2009 and has bi-partisan support, some U.S. Senators are pausing to consider the outcry of homeschoolers concerned the treaty would  enable “international bureaucrats” to tell them how to raise their children. The purported goal of the treaty is to set uniform standards around the world for the treatment of people with disabilities.

“Part of this treaty deals with abortion and the rights of children, issues that should be addressed by states, local governments and American parents, not international bureaucrats,” Senator Jim DeMint’s office stated. “Sen. DeMint strongly opposes this treaty, as the United States is already the world leader in addressing the needs of the disabled and it’s foolish to think Americans need to sign away our sovereignty to exert our influence around the world.”[1]

The centralization of law-power toward the United Nations. Hate crimes laws. Laws that make it their aim to eradicate poverty and disease. Do these modern political trends reflect a Christian view of law?

“But we know that the law is good, if a man uses it lawfully,” says I Timothy 1:8. As the Law-Word of God expresses the unchanging holy and loving nature of our Lord, it exudes His “righteousness,” as Deuteronomy 4:8 tells us,[2] in a supremely greater way than any law of man ever could. To be brought back into fellowship with God through the atonement, thus, involves being brought back into fellowship with God’s Law. So a Christian should not shun God’s Law-Word, but embrace it and embrace its intended purposes. He should seek to apply those intended purposes as he performs his role in civil affairs.

Our Christian forefathers, who by God’s grace triumphed the Reformation, spoke with great unity about the purposes of God’s Law. The early German Reformers summarized that unified position in this way:

It is established that the Law of God was given to men for three causes: first, that certain external discipline might be preserved, and wild and intractable men might be restrained, as it were, by certain barriers; secondly, that by the Law men might be brought to an acknowledgment of their sins; thirdly, that regenerate man, to all of whom, nevertheless, much of the flesh still cleaves, for that very reason may have some certain rule after which they may and ought to shape their lives.

The Formula of Concord.[3]

Expounding upon the purposes of God’s Law expressed by the the German Reformers, Dr. R.J. Rushdoony dedicated the fourth chapter of his book Politics of Guilt and Pity to explain the pagan purposes of law and contrast those purposes with the biblical and historical Christian, trinitarian purposes.
 

First Purpose: To Condemn Moralism

John Dewey (the humanist educator who made the Dewey Decimal System used by most libraries) presented a moralistic view of law when he wrote, “Law is a statement of the conditions of the organizations of energies which, when unorganized, conflict and result in violence—that is, destruction or waste.”[4] In other words, according to Dewey, destruction and waste could be stopped by law.

Aristotle defined the purpose of political science as making the citizens “to be of a certain character, viz., good and capable of noble acts,”[5] and stated the purpose of the law to be the training of citizens “in habits of right action—this is he aim of all legislation, and if it fails to do this, it is a failure.”[6] Thomas Aquinas also popularized this moralistic view of law.

Moralism led the Briand-Kellogg Pact of Paris to outlaw war in 1928. By August 1932, sixty-two of the sixty-four nations in the world had signed the pact. But it did not stop World War II. Despite that failure, the United Nations stands as a monument to the continuing hope in moralism. As people have become aware of the internal nature of sin, they have sought to apply moralism even to man’s heart through “hate crime” legislation that attempts to govern an area God never purposed for human government to control: a man’s soul.

What is wrong with moralism? Why does moralism fail? To explain, Dr. R.J. Rushdoony begins by writing: “[The] first office of the law is the radical condemnation of moralism wherever found, in Christian and unbeliever alike. For a Christian to hope in law as a means of making men good, whether negatively or positively, is thus to sin radically and place a burden on the law forbidden to him.”[7]

Dr. Rushdoony went on to explain how Marxism, Socialism, and Welfare Economics are each dependent on the idea of moralism — as are many “Roman, Anabaptist, Puritan, and modernist versions of the same arrogant pride and presumption.”[8]

Legalistic moralism or Phariseeism seeks to legislate men into goodness, and to so order society that man will become inevitably and necessarily good as well as happy. . . .

The Roman Church, both by its penitential system and by its moralistic concept of salvation, seeks to legislate man into heaven, and by it concept of the Christian state, strives to create an order where men must be godly.

Protestant Christianity, by seeking legislation against personal vices as the means to social order on the one hand, and by means of its social gospel on the other, seeks to make men good by means of the state rather than by Christ.

Marxism, a modern form of Phariseeism, affirms the same faith in the ability of law to recreate man, and the purpose of the state is to use legislation to reshape man and society.

The welfare state has a similar function. In each and every one of these forms, the law is moralism and a maximum use of the whip. No morality can forego the whip, but every morality becomes a beggarly moralism when the whip replaces religious faith as the basic impetus to action. In morality, the priority in action is a God-centered motivation; in moralism, the theocentric impetus is either gone or secondary.

R.J. Rushdoony, Politics of Guilt and Pity.[9]

The great Reformer John Calvin taught extensively on the purposes of God’s Law. When defining the purposes of God’s Law, John Calvin wrote in his Institutes:

[T]he law is like a mirror, in which we behold, first, our impotence; secondly, our iniquity, which proceeds from it; and lastly, the consequence of both, our obnoxiousness to the curse; just as a mirror represents to us the spots on our face. For when a man is destitute of power to practice righteousness, he must necessarily fall into habits of sin. And sin is immediately followed by the curse. There for the greater the transgression of which the law convicts us, the more severe is the judgment with which it condemns us. This appears from the observation of the Apostle, that “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). For he there speaks only of the first office of the law, which is experienced in sinner not yet regenerated.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion.[10]

Galatians 3:24 says that “the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” By forcing us to realize our utter moral inadequacy, we realize our need for Jesus Christ’s redemption. I Corinthians 1:26-30 asserts that God calls people unto salvation and righteousness who are not trusting in their human powers and abilities “[t]hat no flesh should glory in his presence.”

Second Purpose: To Provide Social Order

“The second office of the law is social order,” writes Dr. Rushdoony, “the protection of society from the ravages of evildoers”.[11] Calvin confirms that the law is “to cause those who, unless constrained, feel no concern for justice and rectitude, when they hear its terrible sanctions, to be at least restrained by a fear of its penalties.”[12]

Romans 13:3-4 says those who enforce the law “are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”

“Social order is necessary to create the measure of discipline needed for the birth of a godly culture,” Dr. Rushdoony continues. “Indeed, the very word ‘culture’ implies discipline and restraint. But that order can follow only if the law rests on God’s eternal order.

“A prostitute who knows she is a whore, and that she is sinning against God, is thereby a greater source of social order than an intellectual, whether a probing mind as yet without crime, or a ‘justified’ murderer, who does not recognize the fact of sin and asserts a moralistic autonomy.”[13]

Third Purpose: To Guide Christians in the Divine Will

The Law of God gives Christians, Calvin wrote, “from day to day, a better and more certain understanding of the divine will to which they aspire, and to confirm them in the knowledge of it.” Study of the law will “excite to obedience, confirm man therein, and accordingly restrain him from transgression.”[14]

Can the moralist claim that the Christian view of law is just like his view? Dr. Rushdoony does not think so.

At this point the moralist assumes that he has both Scripture’s and Calvin’s warrant for his use of law, but a fundamental difference exists. The moralist believes that ‘love’ for his neighbor or enemy will change that man into the desired person; the godly man is under no such illusion as to the ‘power’ of his activity. . . . If I can ‘change’ men by loving them, or by my law-keeping, then I have a very real social control over them, which, for their good and for a faster social result, I can apply through legal and coercive means. . . . [I]f I have no power to ‘change’ men . . . , but have only a duty under God to them, I cannot legally claim a power over them which abrogates my religious duty.

Rushdoony, Politics of Guilt and Pity.[15]

Thus, Rushdoony denied the use of the Law as a mechanism to manipulate man into true goodness by outward conformity to the Law. No amount of manipulation can change a man so he will truly subject himself to the Law of God and live faithfully by it in his flesh. In contrast, genuine salvation in the heart of man, changes him from the inside-out. As redeemed man becomes a new creature in Christ, his devotion to the Lord  flows out to other human relationships and transforms the way he lives in his family, church, and civil government. “If ye love me,” said Jesus Christ, “keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Obedience to God’s commands revealed in His Law can only come from a transformed heart that is enabled to genuinely love God.

Conclusion

“Wherefore, the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” Romans 7:12. The Law reflects God’s unchanging, holy and loving character. One cannot have God without having the work of God found in His Law.

The historically biblical, Christian view of law has been theonomic. That is, it has been based on the idea that God is the source of righteous law order. The Greek word theos means “God” andnomos means “law.” Put those two Greek words together and you have theonomy, the Law order given by God.

The purposes of God’s Law have always been: First, to convict man of sin by removing any confidence he may have in his moralism. Second, to provide society with order. Third, to guide Christians in following God’s will.

Under God’s Law, legislation cannot be issued to manipulate people into goodness. Law is simply the responsibility placed on me by God — a responsibility I owe to Him and my neighbor. It is a responsibility that can be fulfilled only in the grace of God through the power of His Holy Spirit.

“Jesus said unto them, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40. The righteousness of the Law is fulfilled in the Christian, says Romans 8:4, “who walk[s] not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

 

Endnotes:

1.       See Julian Pecquet’s article ”Sen. DeMint taps brakes on UN treaty as home-school opposition grows” from The Hill at this link. []

2.       “And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?” Deuteronomy 4:8. []

3.       The Formula of Concord, Art. VI, in Philip Schaff: The Creeds of Christendom, Vol. III, p. 130f. []

4.       John Dewey, Intelligence in the Modern World 489 (New York Modern Library, 1939). []

5.       Thica Nicomachea, I, 9. []

6.       Id., II, 1. []

7.       R.J. Rushdoony, Politics of Guilt and Pity 109 (Ross House, 1995). []

8.      Id. []

9.       R.J. Rushdoony, Politics of Guilt and Pity 103 (Ross House, 1995)(paragraph breaks added). []

10.   John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion II, vii, vii. []

11.    Id. at 109. []

12.    Institutes II, vii, x. []

13.    Rushdoony, Politics at 110. []

14.    Institutes II, vii, xii. []

15.    Rushdoony, Politics of Guilt and Pity 112-13. []

 

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