Volume III, Issue 1
Spring 1995 Mischief By Statute
Jefferis Kent Peterson
O Theophilus is the Quarterly Journal of The Center For Biblical Literacy
Psalm 94:20 Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who write mischief by statute?
Many people have suggested that the Declaration of Independence introduced a concept of individual rights into the values of this nation. They insist this concept of rights is foreign to authentic, biblical Christianity. Instead, the concern for “rights” is a product of 18th Century Enlightenment philosophy and is opposed to the very heart of Christianity. They argue: “Christians don’t have rights. Our life is a gift from God, and we give up our right to do what we wish when we acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. We yield our ‘right’ to pursue happiness, to have liberty, even our ‘right’ to life in order to become His servants. As Martin Luther King, Jr. so aptly put it, a Christian is not called to pursue happiness, but ‘to do the will of God, come what may!’ ”
What is missing from this argument is the social context in which the Founding Fathers thought and reasoned. The Founders of this nation never denied social obligations incumbent on individual members of society. They recognized that individual liberty was cradled in the larger responsibility of preserving the general welfare. The modern atomization of individual liberty into a selfish assertion of “rights” above the welfare of the community never entered their minds, for they understood every right presupposes responsibilities. The Founders accepted the necessity of sacrifice for the sake of the community, and to that end, they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. They lived in such a context that our modern craving for selfish interests would have been intolerable to them.
As they forged a new form of civil government to preserve the general welfare, the Founding Fathers were concerned about the accumulation of excessive power by government. Their recent experiences with British tyranny left them with a great distrust of centralized authority. The Constitution was so written as to restrict the accumulation of powers by civil government. But these limitations of power were not based on Enlightenment philosophy (though that influence was part of contemporary political thought). Rather, this founding principle of the Constitution was the Biblical acknowledgment of God’s supreme right over the lives of men, a right that even a legitimate civil government has no authority to transgress – not because a government would be robbing the people of their rights, but because the government would be robbing God of His!
The opening lines of the Declaration of Independence declare:
“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…”
This statement about “equality” is not rooted in egalitarian philosophy, but in the belief of our equal value and worth to our Creator. Because we were created by God in His own image, we belong to Him. Because we belong to Him, He has certain rights over us that no State has a right to transgress. The Declaration was written to affirm God’s right over His creatures in opposition to a King who attempted to be god over his subjects.
Although we may have no rights that we can assert before God, He Who owns us has given us rights before one another, and has ordained civil government to protect His people from injustice (Romans 13:1-7). For example, God set a legal restraint on our right to do to other men what we want when He commanded, “Thou Shalt not Murder.” Capital punishment was prescribed as an instrument of just human government because God determined that no man has the right to infringe upon the right to life of another (Genesis 9:6). Capital Punishment is God’s response to man robbing God of his possessions!
The framers of the Constitution did not reason from a purely secular understanding of liberties but looked to the Old Testament for a godly pattern for civil government.1 The Scriptures acknowledged civil authority as delegated authority from God, upon which He placed divine limits. Even kings were not allowed to abuse God’s people. Those who did suffered not only divine retribution, but natural disaster.2 Biblical principles cautioned the Founders of the need to restrain the exercise of civil authority to its God given charter. The Biblical charter ordained civil authority chiefly to restrain evil and the wickedness of men and to promote an environment where the proclamation of God’s Truth was permitted freely.3 The Constitution framed the legitimate use and role of secular authority according to these Biblical patterns.
Can a civil authority remain legitimate and under divine favor if it throws off restraint and claims for itself rights and privileges not granted by God? No! Such a government sets itself up as a higher authority than God when it presumes to write and implement laws opposed to God’s Law. We have that situation today in America. The laws of the land, which now forbid the teaching of God’s Law in the schools and in public, imply that God is a threat to the State. The State must therefore control the free expression of religion in order to protect the people from harm. But the truth is that the State is entirely dependent upon the Law of God for its very existence! Yet the State, by its laws, has made itself the enemy of God.
If there is no authority higher than the State, then the State effectively becomes the arbiter of all that is just and right. The danger of this autonomous humanistic State is that it will not be restrained from exercising despotic and tyrannical power over its citizenry because it has become accountable to no one but itself. Recognizing no divine limit to its function, it becomes the arbiter of morals as well as policies. When a religious objection arises to a particular law or policy, the State appeals only to itself for its decision. It has no guiding principle higher than a flimsy social contract that is easily reinterpreted to suit present whims. There are no abiding principles or enduring truths to which the government must subject itself with reverence, respect, and awe. There is no absolute authority to which it may turn for counsel and wisdom.
When the Supreme Court publicly and officially expelled the Ten Commandments from our public schools in the 1960’s, it denied a divine sanction for morals and the State declared itself “Supreme.” A black-robed, gang of nine has become our nation’s god. It has declared its authority higher than the Creator’s by standing in opposition to God’s Law and by presuming to pass judgment upon the counsel of God. As a result, our protection as God’s property is being removed. Today, individual rights may serve the State’s interests, but tomorrow the State might change its mind. Who is to stop it now from dissolving those rights we so cherish? Are we nor already seeing an erosion of our freedom?
Cut off from divine favor and divine justice, the State can write laws opposed to the heart of God. Babies can be murdered in the womb as a legal right. Practicers of moral perversion can become a protected class deserving special privileges. The State is able to frame mischief (evil) into the very foundation and fabric of the law. Injustice and immorality are promoted and evil is rewarded and righteousness punished.
Secular authority in a vacuum cannot last. Without a divine sanction, a State loses its authority and ability to govern. As it writes mischief by statute it opposes God, and then God opposes the State. Just as Israel and Judah were destroyed by God for their defiance of His laws, His justice, and His divine compassion for the poor, so God’s patience with America draws to an end. The Founders knew, and cited often, the fact that when rulers in the Old Testament heeded God, Israel prospered, but when rulers did not, their nation floundered.4 Our Forefathers begged for mercy from Almighty God, lest this nation also fail to be sustained by divine favor and providence.
Thomas Jefferson said, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice does not sleep forever….”5
With the rejection of conscience and the Word, with the promotion of immorality and perverseness under the banner of liberty, with selfishness and greed replacing commitment and sacrifice, and with the blood of 30 million innocent children on our hands, can we really believe God remains indifferent to our disobedience? Can we really hope as a nation to be spared the rod of his wrath?
1. For extensive documentation of the Founder’s reliance on Scripture as the principal founding document for the U.S. Constitution, get David Barton’s video or audio cassette entitled “America’s Godly Heritage,” Wallbuilders P.O. Box 397, Aledo TX 76008; Tel. #817- 441-6044.
2. See the life of David as one example (esp. 2 Sam. 24). Chronicles and Kings are full of examples too numerous to mention.
3. Romans 13:1-7, Ephesians 3: 10, & John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV. XX. 3, 6, 8, 9,31 & 32.
4. From a Conversation on the Floor of the Constitutional Convention, the Founders discussed how a nation will answer to God: “As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, so they must be in this, by an inevitable chain of causes and effects, Providence punishes national sins by national calamities.” As recounted by David Barton, op. cit.
5. Thomas Jefferson, from A Summary View of the Rights of British America, & Notes on The State of Virginia, Query 18., as quoted on the Jefferson Memorial, Wash. D.C.