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The City

The City of Man wants to rule the earth, but the purpose of the City of God is that covenant man subdue the earth and exercise dominion over it. Both town and country must be brought under the sway of God’s law.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony
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Chalcedon Report No. 40, December 1, 1968

In order to understand the direction of history, it is necessary to under­stand the meaning of the city. The city has a long and strange history and has at various times been regarded as a man’s ideal society, and, at other times, as a thing to flee from. The countryside similarly has been viewed sometimes as a wilderness and at other times a refuge, an idyllic haven from the city. The reasons for this are important for us to know.

Too many people in modern times have seen the origin of the city in Cain, who built a city and called it Enoch (Gen. 4:17). The Hebrew word for city probably means in origin “to rouse,” or “to raise an alarm,” ac­cording to H. C. Leupold, and Enoch means “Beginner”; the city of Cain was thus both a new beginning, and a place of refuge when an alarm was raised. But Cain’s “beginning” had reference to an earlier beginning, Eden. We are accustomed to thinking of the Garden of Eden exclusively as a “garden”; but Revelation 21 and 22 make it clear that Eden is both garden and city, “The New Jerusalem,” the Kingdom or City of God. The common characteristic of ancient cities was a wall; Eden was walled after the fall to keep sinful man out, the wall being “Cherubims, and a flaming sword” (Gen. 3:24).

In terms of this, we must say that the city is intended to represent com­munity and a common life and refuge. The two basic aspects thus of the city are (1) a common faith, and (2) a common defense. But today the city has no common faith, and it is a place of increasing lawlessness and ter­ror. Somehow, the city has failed; the city has failed to be a city. Instead of walling out the enemy, it has walled in the enemy. It is important for us to know why.

Let us analyze briefly the two basic aspects of the city in its origin, first, a common faith. Originally, a city represented a common faith, and citizenship rested on atonement. In ancient Rome, for example, a man lost his citizenship, except for soldiers on duty, if he were absent from the annual lustrations, the annual rites of atonement. Citizenship meant adherence to a common religious faith and a common doctrine of law. To be a citizen once meant something more than a vote, it meant a covenant of faith. Citizenship was a religious fact.

Second, the common-defense aspect of a city meant the defense of the citizenry from enemy attack. That enemy was not only a foreign invader, but also lawbreakers and unbelievers within. The law order of the city could be overthrown by unbelief, because every law order represents a re­ligious faith. The criminal and the unbeliever are thus equally subverters of a law order, although for different reasons. The city therefore walled itself with stone walls against foreign invaders, and, by temple, ritual, and law, against the enemy within.

In ancient Israel, the true concept of the city was clearly maintained, not only in that a common faith, the covenant God, and a common de­fense, the covenant law and national defense, were maintained, but that a common justice was accorded to noncitizens: “Ye shall have one man­ner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 24:22). The stranger or alien could not become a citizen unless he became a member of the covenant, citizen­ship being religious, not racial, but in any case he was under law, under a common justice.

But certain changes began to occur in the life of the city. The New Tes­tament era, like our own, was the urban age, the era of great cities. But the concept of citizenship was changing. The Christians were persecuted in terms of an older standard: because they denied the religion of the state, they were enemies of the state, and war was waged against them. This war was logical and inevitable, because two mutually contradictory religions and standards of citizenship were involved.

But, meanwhile, Rome was destroying its own standard of citizenship. Citizenship came to have a negative meaning: a citizen was not a Chris­tian, or should not be a Christian, because a Christian by definition was an enemy of the state. But citizenship at first could be bought, at a great price, then a cheap one, and, finally, it was being granted to everyone and had no meaning, dignity, or responsibility.

Meanwhile, welfarism, combined with the ruin of the farmers, cre­ated a welfare mob in Rome which increasingly dominated the city and made for lawlessness. Instead of the city being a refuge from the world, it was increasingly the hellhole of the world. Instead of the emperor ruling Rome, increasingly the emperor was ruled by fear of the mob. In a.d. 274, the concessions to the welfare mobs reached the point under Aurelian that bread was substituted for wheat in the welfare grants (to make bak­ing unnecessary for welfare families), with free pork, olive oil, and salt added, and, more important, the right to relief was made hereditary. Wel­fare children no longer had to undergo the trauma of applying for relief, when they came of age; it was their birthright! The increase in taxes, and in inflation, virtually wiped out the middle classes. Aurelian, a brilliant general, tried to restore Rome to order; he tried to replace bad coinage with good. A new coin proclaimed him “Deus et Dominus Natus,” God and lord from birth. The coin showed Aurelian as the sun-god arising to bless the whole earth. But in a.d. 275 Aurelian was assassinated by the very corrupt officials he planned to expose. An able general, he had done brilliantly against the outside enemies; the enemies within, he tried to overcome, but his efforts were futile: he removed a few officials, but he created a greater welfare mob.

By the time Rome fell, the city was radically sick. Emperors no longer ruled from Rome; they had moved from city to city, but cities were in­creasingly unsafe, and, when Rome fell, the actual capitol was a minor city, Ravenna. Moreover, plague, flight from the city, lawlessness, and welfarism had progressively made the city a poor place to live and had depopulated the cities.

Earlier, the city had represented civilization, religion, and safety as against the countryside, which was seen as a wilderness, pagan, danger­ous, and lawless. But men now fled to the wilderness for safety. The all-inclusive city had walled in anarchy and lawlessness, so that men of law and religion sought shelter in the wilderness.

There are, as St. Augustine said, two cities, the City of God versus the City of Man. The more openly and clearly Rome became the City of Man, the more clearly its inherent ruin and collapse began to govern its history.

The concern of the succeeding centuries was the city, to establish the rule of the City of God. Space does not permit an analysis of its history. It was an important and central part of the Christian message. St. Patrick, for example, in the Book of the Three Habitations, taught concerning the City of God that it is the goal of history. Much later, Otto, Bishop of Freising, in The Two Cities, grieved because the two cities had become one in the church. The various reform movements, and the Reformation, were aimed at separating the two cities.

An important stage in the development of the city was the Enlighten­ment, which concerned itself with the City of Man. The City of Man was to be an open city, open to all men, and open to the rulers. City planning began in the eighteenth century, and it called for straight streets, so that the state could send its cavalry charging down the streets and dominate the city. With straight streets, guns could be mounted at strategic in­tersections to command every approach. All men were to be citizens, because all men were to be ruled by the philosopher-kings.

For Jeremy Bentham, political power was necessarily unlimited and undefined. His concept of the state, the City of Man, was perhaps the best description of a total prison we have had.

This open city of the humanists was supposedly an ideal concept of brotherhood; in practice, it meant the opportunity for total control of all men. It led to totalitarianism and tyranny.

But another important step in the history of the city was the colo­nization of North America. The Puritans in particular were concerned with the City of God. They settled, not as lone individuals, but as cities and towns. When they migrated westward, they migrated in companies, not as lone individuals, and they established towns every few miles. The farmer out in the country saw himself in relationship to his township.

The town was the City of God; the countryside was the wilderness, outside of God but to be brought under the sway of the City of God. Laws, including the so-called “Blue Laws,” had as their purpose the con­quest of the wilderness outside of the city and inside man. The purpose of law is to bring God’s order to the world within and the world without. The city had, i.e., every state in the union had originally, religious and moral tests of citizenship.

But humanism has gradually extended the boundaries of citizenship. Attempts are under way to restore citizenship automatically to all crimi­nals. Citizenship is increasingly defined, in the twentieth century, in a physical sense, by race, or by membership in humanity as such, or by birth. It no longer has reference to faith, law, and defense. The more in­clusive the city becomes, the more demonic it becomes, because it denies that faith and law are governing principles, and it makes the fact of be­ing a man, a human being, the governing principle. Citizenship is then beyond law, beyond good and evil: it is amoral and demonic.

The City of Man is beginning to rule the earth. In Marxism, it has perpetrated greater evils and more mass murders than history has ever seen, tortures and cruelties beyond all past conceptions.

In the democracies, lawlessness is increasingly the rule in the cities. Signs of this were apparent early in the last century in America. New York City, under Tammany, began to propagate democracy, rule in the name of the people, and the result was tyranny, massive fraud, the en­forced prostitution of helpless women, and, a steady perversion of justice (see Alfred Connable and Edward Silberfarb, Tigers of Tammany [New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967]). As the city decayed, what men had once regarded as the wilderness, the rural areas, came to be a paradise by contrast.

Today, all over the world, the philosophies of the Enlightenment gov­ern, especially in the cities, and the result is what a November 1968, newspaper article described as the “Exodus from the Cities.” The cities now lack community. Many live in distrust of providing protection for the citizens; the city is increasingly unable to protect even its police and firemen, and the death toll of the police increases annually. The city is dying, and the vultures are gathering to feast on its corpse. The city has become the ideal arena for guerrilla warfare, and again civilization is witnessing a turning to the wilderness as a stage in the rebuilding of civilization.

The purpose of the City of God is that covenant man subdue the earth and exercise dominion over it. Both town and country must be brought under the sway of God’s law.

Humanism cannot contain the flames of anarchy: it feeds them. It re­places God’s law by man’s law, an absolute order by a relative order, and it gives ultimate authority, not to God, but to elite, planning, scientific man. Men are reduced from creatures created in the image of God to laboratory animals who are used in social experiments. Humanism can­not be fought on humanistic premises. The humanist believes, not in an absolute God and an absolute law, but in a pragmatic, relative standard. In politics, he grounds sovereignty in man and the state, not in God. In economics, he denies the validity of any economic law and an objec­tive monetary standard, gold, and grounds his economics and money on “character” and “integrity,” forgetting that man is a sinner. In education today, the humanist denies that the student must conform to an ultimate moral, intellectual, and scientific standard of scholarship but progressive­ly asserts man and his existential need as his only law. In religion, man is the new god of the humanists, and the new commandments are read out of man’s biology, not from Scripture. It is no wonder, then, that human­ism cannot contain the flames of anarchy, since its very nature feeds the flames. The flames will devour the existing humanistic order, because all the remedies of state only pour gasoline on the flames, and the mobs in the street shout, “Burn, baby, burn!”

That which is for burning shall be burned, and those who are destined for the fire shall go into the fire, but we who are the Lord’s people look “for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10). In terms of this expectation, we begin now the work of reconstruction.


R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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