Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

10/22/2009 (9:34 am)

TFJR: Civil Magistrates Must Be Just

tfjr-final-2At long last, I continue my series of reviews of the Theological Foundations of a Just Rebellion (TFJR), political sermons delivered in pre-Revolution America. This installment covers a sermon preached by Charles Chancey in Boston on election day, in May of 1747, before the governor, the ruling council, and the house of representatives of Massachusetts. The text of the sermon may be found here.

Charles Chauncy served as pastor of the First Church in Boston for sixty years, and was among the most influential pastors in New England. From 1762 to 1771 he was instrumental in combating the British threat to send an Anglican bishop to America, an issue that rallied Congregationalists across New England against the Crown.


The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me; he that ruleth over Men must be just, ruling in the Fear of God.

II Sam. xxiii. 3.

I. That governments are necessary, and that some should rule over others, is evidently the will of God.

Governments are necessary to protect life, liberty, and property; this is necessary because of human sin. No particular system is God-ordained, but every people must choose its own style. It is evident in nature that some men are fit to rule, and others are not.

The present circumstances of the human race are therefore such, by means of sin, that ’tis necessary they should, for their mutual defence and safety, combine together in distinct societies, lodging as much power in the hands of a few, as may be sufficient to restrain the irregularities of the rest, and keep them within the bounds of a just decorum. Such a superiority in some, and inferiority in others, is perfectly adjusted to the present state of mankind. Their circumstances require it. They could not live, either comfortably or safely without it.

II. Rulers must be just, ruling in the fear of God.

A. Rulers must be just

1. They must be just in cooperation with their government’s Constitution. They must remain within the powers granted to them.

They have severally and equally a right to that power which is granted to them in the constitution, and to wrest it out of each other’s hands, or to obstruct one another in the regular legal exercise of it, is evidently unjust.

2. They must be just in the laws that they pass. Righteousness is the sole difference between rightful authority and tyranny.

They have an undoubted right to make and execute laws, for the publick good. This is essentially included in the very idea of government: Insomuch, that government, without a right to enact and enforce proper laws, is nothing more than an empty name.

And this right, in whomsoever it is vested, must be exercised under the direction of justice. For as there cannot be government without a right of legislation, so neither can there be this right but in conjunction with righteousness. ’Tis the just exercise of power that distinguishes right from might; authority that is to be revered and obeyed, from violence and tyranny, which are to be dreaded and deprecated.

Not only must they be just in the form of the laws that they pass, they must also be just in the execution of those laws, and in empowering others to execute them. There must be no favoritism, no self-seeking, no partisanship in their execution.

Augustine’s dictum that “an unjust law is no law at all” comes to mind. Dr. Chauncy would have disagreed, but would have agreed that an unjust law does severe damage to the reputation of the state and the law, and that such laws must be corrected by better rulers.

3. They must be just in their debts. The government must pay what it owes. And in justice to their station, they should be well-paid for their service.

The apparent intent of the Fed in conjunction with the President to repay US debt holders with inflated currency is a stark violation of this concept.

4. They must be just in respect to the liberties of subjects. They must respect and defend them.

Here, Chauncy uses the example of the Apostle Paul receiving deference when it was discovered he was a subject of Rome. So should rulers always defend the rights of their citizens, so that others will fear to intrude on them. In the modern day we might liken this to the appropriate use of the military to protect US citizens abroad. However, Chauncy also clearly means that the state must not intrude on the liberties of private citizens at home.

5. They must be just in preserving the peace and safety of the state. They must not permit undue disturbance among the people.

By this, he means that the state must be swift in putting down rebellion and in protecting citizens from thieves and highwaymen.

6. They must promote the general welfare of the people…

…by discouraging, on the one hand, idleness, prodigality, prophaneness, uncleanness, drunkenness, and the like immoralities, which tend, in the natural course of things, to their impoverishment and ruin: And by encouraging, on the other hand, industry, frugality, temperance, chastity, and the like moral virtues, the general practice whereof are naturally connected with the flourishing of a people in every thing that tends to make them great and happy.

Chauncy adds that rulers will account to Jesus for their execution of Justice, and the judgment for failure to do so faithfully will not be pretty.

In fine, it should be a constraining argument with rulers to be just, that they are accountable to that Jesus, whom God hath ordained to be the judge of the world, for the use of that power he has put into their hands. And if, by their unjust behaviour in their places, they have not only injured the people, but unhappily led them, by their example, into practices that are fraudulent and dishonest; I say, if they have thus misused their power, sad will be their account another day; such as must expose them to the resentments of their judge, which they will not be able to escape. It will not be any security then, that they were once ranked among the great men of the earth.

Chauncy also explains how necessary it is for rulers to possess sound faith. He explains that by no means is faith sufficient grounds to promote a man to governmental responsibility, but that such faith is one necessary condition of that promotion.

In the application of the lesson, Chauncy recognizes the Governor and other officers who were present, and exhorts them to more faithfully fulfill their duties. Apparently, Dr. Chauncy was concerned that the state of warfare and debt in the colonies was linked to their failure to enforce justice in public debts and business, to abuses of credit to the detriment of rich and poor alike, to an excess of vanity among the people, and to an excess of strong drink. Like any good Englishman of the time, he considered it the state’s role to enforce the public morals, both in what we would call social justice and in what we would call private morality.

By far the most crucial thing to notice about this sermon is that it was delivered preparatory to voting. They considered the selection of leaders a solemn duty before God, to be carried out in full awareness of their unity under Christ and of their duty to impartial and non-partisan justice.

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October 22, 2009 @ 10:10 am #

Due to the fact that Dems are inclined to appoint activist judges, and due to the fact that mighty judges from little judges come, I was particularly conscious of which judges I was voting for last election.

It didn’t do me any good. Apparently it is against the law in California to print anything negative about any sitting judge, and as far as I was able to determine, there is no means of “scoring” a judge based on his legal decisions. Now it’s entirely possible to do so if you yourself are a lawyer and have access to various restricted sources, but unless someone is campaigning against that judge and has that access, the average voter is unable to determine the cases or issues a judge has decided, and what those decisions were.

Whoever you vote for, you’re buying a pig in a poke…

(at least in California. I don’t know about other states)

October 22, 2009 @ 2:41 pm #

suek —

There are no legal limits to who can access decisions from lower courts. You just have to know where to look and how to use the indices. However, it is time-consuming and arcane, so, yes, most voters will go to the polls without even the slightest knowledge.

Is “Apparently it is against the law … to print anything negative” a snarky joke? or is there literally a law? I’m guessing that what you mean is you went hunting for talk about the performance of the judges, but found nothing. Is that correct?

October 22, 2009 @ 5:22 pm #

It’s been a couple of years – but no, what I mean is that it actually against the law to print anything negative about judges (in California). However now – as then – I find it kind of unbelievable, so I’ll try to find the info again. I’d actually like to find out that I misread something…

If I find anything material, I’ll post it.

October 22, 2009 @ 7:24 pm #

I don’t know what I found then, but I found this today:

That works for me! Thanks for making me look it up – it doesn’t pertain to an election in my county this year, but who knows what will be on the ballot next year!

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