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Fugitive from Law
Men and BooksGeoffrey J. Paxton, B.D.*  

We are living in an age of "man, the fugitive." He is a fugitive from law. Almost, if not every area of human existence today reflects man's tragic attempt to escape from law.


Man is the escapee from law in the area of nature. Western thinking has believed in the law of nature, or natural law. In fact, from the time of the Renaissance onwards, natural law came to dominate Western thinking in our universities. This, however, cannot be said of our day and age. Things have changed.

Those who advocate natural law say that there is such a law in nature which man's enlightened reason can discover. Such a natural law is that by which man and nations must be ruled.

There are two voices against this view which have appeared over the last hundred years or so, and which have had a great influence upon the thinking of many:

First, Charles Darwin. Darwin contended that the one constant factor in the universe is inconstancy, or change. This being the case, it is impossible to speak of any absolute law. The universe has evolved by means of chance variations, and hence no law has any absoluteness. In the light (sic!) of this hypothesis, to speak of law is to speak of social customs and statistical averages. The socially accepted gives us our laws. For readers who are interested in perusing a sociological outworking of this thesis, there is Emile Durkheim's The Rules of Sociological Method, especially his chapter, "On the Normality of Crime." It cannot be denied that, in essence, evolution is hostile to the very idea of law. Commitment to evolution is commitment to revolution. Law implies an unchanging order, a final standard, and this is the very thing the Darwinian cannot accept.

The second voice is that of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., associate justice of the Supreme Court. Holmes instigated a legal revolution in his book, The Common Law (1881). He attacked the doctrine of natural law as legal nonsense. Here is a sample:

The Life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience. The felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intentions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellow-men, have had a good deal more to do with the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed.... The substance of the law at any given time pretty nearly corresponds, so far as it goes, with what is then understood to be convenient, but its form and machinery, and the degree to which it is able to work out desired results, depends very much upon its past.

NatureHere Holmes declares that natural law is as variable as the persons expounding it. Although Holmes did not have any illusions about the alternative to natural law (i.e., the experience of the people as embodied in the state), he preferred such to the philosophy of natural law. Hence, the courts must reflect the evolving experiences of society.

Although we do not agree with the position of Holmes, it must be said that if evolution is true, then Holmes' conclusions are inescapable. The anti-natural law school includes relativists, positivists, pragmatists, Marxists, existentialists and others! For most of these thinkers, the only real law is positive law, the law of the state. Positive, or state, law repudiates the notion of any higher law which stands over man and the state.

The Christian Answer

Christianity repudiates the old natural-law concepts even more strongly than did Darwin and Holmes.

First, Christianity does not believe that nature has any power, mind, consciousness, or will in and of itself. Nature is simply a collective noun, a name for the sum total of the universe. Christianity which is Biblical Christianity, has no use for any form of personification of nature save as a literary device to convey some message. Hence, strictly speaking, Christianity speaks not of the law of nature but the laws over nature.

Second, Christianity does not teach that nature is normative. That is, nature is not the standard; a thing is not good because it occurs in nature, because it is natural. This is the error of the moral anarchists. The truth is not "what is." Nature is not the standard because nature "suffers" from the fall of man into sin. Nature is infected by sin and death.

Third, Christianity does not believe in the Darwinian demolition of any absolutes which govern and control nature despite nature's infection by the Fall. The Bible teaches that man is a creature that is more than biology, and man's law is more than a phase of his social evolution which changes as man changes. Man, the Bible teaches, is a creature of God who is created in God's image with knowledge, righteousness, holiness, and dominion (Gen. 1:27-28; Col. 3:.14; Eph. 4:24).

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." NKJ Genesis 1:27-28

But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. NKJ Colossians 3:14

…and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. NKJ Ephesians 4:24

Man's reference point, therefore, is not society but God. True, the law of man's being is derived, but it is derived from God and not from society. The ground of man's health is the law, the Most High God (Deut. 6:24; 16:20). Man must not be judged socially but religiously, not by his fellow men but by God.

Fourth, though we acknowledge much truth in what Holmes has said about the traditionally received doctrine of natural law, nevertheless we assert again that the Bible will have no pact with legal positivism, which makes the judges of the courts into gods. There is a far cry from the Platonic philosopher-kings, who are the totalitarian rulers over mankind. God is God. God has established various law-spheres over nature, laws governing physical reality. In all areas of our life, we are governed by laws. Whether we eat, sleep, work, worship, or play, we move in the sphere of the divine law. Nature did not evolve the physiological laws which govern our sleep. Nature did not give us the laws of nutrition and laws of digestion. These, one and all, came from God when He created the universe. The answer to natural law and to legal positivism is the revelation of the Word of God in the Bible.


We conclude our remarks with some general statements concerning the Christian view of law.

RiotFirst, we are living in an age which is most vocal about its contempt for authority. However, it is not possible to be free of all authority. Those who decry authority are either hypocritical or ignorant. It is not possible even to think without authority!

It may well be that God is denied and that every other man is denied, but such denial is the assertion of the positing of authority in the denying subject himself, in the individual. The man who repudiates all other authority becomes his own god. Such a one is hostile to all authority except his own. The authority of any system of thought is the god of that system. It may be, as mentioned above, the individual. It may be the people (vox populi, vox Dei). It may be an avant-garde intellectual elite. Whatever or whoever it is, it is the god of that system.

The Bible places authority in the Triune God, who has expressed Himself in the Bible. God is above and beyond man. The purpose of God's law and of His government is to establish man in godly order and true liberty.

The Bible places authority in this world only under God – husband over wife under God; parents over their children under God; the state over its citizens under God. All human authority is limited by God's authority.

The Bible places great emphasis, therefore, on law as the vehicle of authority. Every law presupposes an authority, and every authority denotes a law of some kind to express itself.

Second, we are living in an age in which men are choosing chaos instead of God. If we believe that the universe evolved out of chaos, then chaos is the ultimate factor and force of the universe. Chaos is the absolutely lawless source of all things. Marx was delighted with the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species because he saw it as "a basis in natural science for the class struggle in history."

The Bible is clear in its faith in creationism. God is Ultimate and not chaos. What is not often remembered is that God's way of regeneration is not by chaos (revolution) but by grace (regeneration), and grace establishes the law (Rom. 3:31).

Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law. NKJ Romans 3:31

The purpose of the law is life (Rom. 7:10).

And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. NKJ Romans 7:10

Man in Jesus Christ dies to the law as an indictment but lives in Christ, not to despise God's law, but now to abide by it through the grace of God. Grace is the believer's life, and law is its condition.

The paradise of Eden was not a lawless domain. Law prevailed absolutely; and while it did, man was fully free. The tempter sought to have Adam and Eve become their own gods (which is another way of saying that he sought to have them repudiate the absolute authority of God expressed in and through the law) and choose what was good and evil themselves! The struggle in Eden was over the source of the law. Was it God or was it to be man?

*Geoffrey J. Paxton is an Anglican clergyman and principal of the Queensland Bible Institute, Brisbane, Australia.