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What Is Law?

It is impossible to separate morality from law because civil law is simply one branch of moral law, and morality is the foundation of law. Laws cannot make men good: that is the work of the Holy Spirit.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony
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(Reprinted from Bread Upon the Waters: Columns From The California Farmer [Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press, 1974], 15–16.)

Several writers lately have declared that law has nothing to do with morality, and that it is high time we stopped trying to legislate morality. It is time to examine this statement and understand the menace in it. The fact is that every law has something to do with morality. A law says something is right or wrong; it makes certain actions punishable by law because society believes them to be wrong.

All laws are therefore legal enactments of a moral code. This goes for traffic laws too. Their purpose is to protect life and property because our moral law says, “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not steal,” and destroying another man’s property is one way of robbing him of it. Laws of courtroom procedure are also moral laws: their purpose is to further justice and prevent perjury and injustice.

It is impossible to separate morality from law because civil law is simply one branch of moral law, and morality is the foundation of law. Laws cannot make men good: that is the work of the Holy Spirit. But laws can prevent men from doing evil. When we see a speed limit sign, or a police officer, it does restrain our foot on the gas pedal. No thief is saved by laws against theft, but society is protected by laws against theft.

The foundation of law is morality, but what is the foundation of morality? Every morality rests on a religion, on a faith concerning the ultimate power in or over the universe. Buddhism has one kind of morality, Mohammedanism another. Every religion has a different moral code because their religious foundations differ.

The foundation of our American law is Christianity, Biblical faith. Our American system of laws will not last long without the foundation of Christian morality and faith.

The late Chief Parker of the Los Angeles Police Department said in 1965 that we are in the midst of a legal revolution. Indeed we are. Our historic Christian American legal system is being subverted by humanistic and anti-Christian faiths, and as a result law and order are declining. This is the real revolution today, revolution against Christianity. During the Viet Nam Day Protest Speeches at Berkeley, one Communist stated that “revolution with machine guns … are the least important. The revolutions that are really important go on in people’s minds and in the way they think and feel.” This, the basic revolution, the speaker said, was being won.

How far has this revolution gone in you? Is law for you basically Christian, or is it humanistic and revolutionary?

The promises of God to us as a people are for obedience to His law by faith: “do them, that ye may live” (Dt. 4:1). “And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth” (Dt. 28:1). If not, God declared “that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee” (Dt. 28:15). The choice is an obvious one. And we had better choose quickly.


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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