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.
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
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
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.
Here 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 old natural-law concepts even more strongly than did Darwin
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
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.
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
all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
NKJ Colossians 3:14
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
J. Paxton is an Anglican clergyman and principal of the Queensland Bible Institute, Brisbane, Australia.