IBL01: The First Commandment (Craig Press)

Law as Power and Discrimination


*This is an unedited and unoffical print version of R.J. Rushdoony’s lecture.

R.J. Rushdoony: 00:00 Romans 13:1-6. The law as power and the discrimination. Romans 13:1-6, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God, the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God, and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same. For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain, for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also, for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 01:44 The first commandment declares, “Thou shall have no other gods before me.” This can also be paraphrased, “Thou shalt have no other powers before me, independent of or prior to me.” Now one of the central violations of the first commandment is precisely this, to set other powers as independent to or prior to God, and the central power which is made independent of and prior to God is the state.

R.J. Rushdoony: 02:41 It is that on St. Paul in Romans is dealing with the doctrine of justification by faith and deals with a priority, the absolute priority of God in salvation, that we are saved not by our works nor by our faith. Though we are justified by faith, but we are absolutely saved by the sovereign act of God which manifest itself in our faith.

R.J. Rushdoony: 03:22 He then proceeds to the doctrine of predestination, and then as he deals with the world at large, he declares that all power is ordained of God because God is the absolute law, the absolute power. Therefore, there can be no other power than God and all the powers that be are ordained of God.

R.J. Rushdoony: 03:54 Now, as we analyze the fact of power, we must realize that first of all, power is inseparable from law. Law is not law that lacks the power to bind, to compel or to punish. The law is more than compulsion, but without compulsion the law is not law. Power is basic. Similarly, to empty God of absolute power is to deny that he is God. When Karl Barth therefore argues against God being power, he is arguing against God being God. He is denying the God had to God.

R.J. Rushdoony: 04:56 Similarly, to separate power from the law is to deny that it is law. God repeatedly identifies himself as the Almighty, which can be also translated as the all powerful. It is because he is the Almighty, because all power is his, that he can claim total sovereignty over all heaven and earth and demand absolute obedience. Our power is a religious concept, where your power is there is your God, and there is your law. Law and power derived from a common source, and that common source determines what is your God, what is the God of your system.

R.J. Rushdoony: 06:06 This is an elementary fact, but it is a fact that is lost on many people in our generation because we have been filled with so much liberal nonsense. Some of this liberal nonsense characterize the French government at the moment that Napoleon was seizing power, the revolutionists who had earlier seized power and had a reign of terror. We’re now faced with someone else seizing power, but they had come to believe in the few years that had passed so much of their own liberal nonsense that as they were hearing the news that Napoleon had command of Paris with his troops and were seizing the government, one of the members of the government said that it is impossible for him to seize the government. We have the official [inaudible 00:07:17].

R.J. Rushdoony: 07:24 Of course, Napoleon had all the power, and therefore he was the law maker and he was the government. Similarly, the god of any system is the source of power and law. Hence, it is in modern democracies and in modern Marxist states and Fabian Socialist state, the state becomes the God because it becomes the source of law and the source of all power. Hence, it is idolatry and a violation of the first commandment, thou shall have no other gods, no other power, no other law before me. Power thus is a religious concept.

R.J. Rushdoony: 08:28 In antiquity, the king or the emperor was a god because he was the source of power. In the modern world when the democratic state gains power, it claims religious prerogative, it reject Christianity. It works against biblical faith because it is now on process of making itself a God. In communist countries this is openly done, and hymns their song to stalling or [inaudible 00:09:06], or to the state. It is the new God. It is the new source of all power.

R.J. Rushdoony: 09:20 Power is jealously guarded in every anti-Christian state. The one thing that an anti-Christian government will not permit is the division of powers, and hence it is that our establishment is progressively anti-constitutional because the constitution reflects the old Christian, the Biblical, the Old Testament and New Testament insistence on the division of powers. All human powers must be divided, there cannot be a concentration because this leads to idolatry, to a state playing god, and so it is the division of powers is the worst of all offenses, from the governmental perspective of every modern state.

R.J. Rushdoony: 10:27 Law is applied power, although it is more than power. Those who object to coercion are really objecting to law, and our modern left wing student writers who object to coercion on the part of the university, and on the part of the state are actually objecting to all law because you cannot have law without coercion.

R.J. Rushdoony: 11:01 … God’s [inaudible 00:11:01]. Can there be any law in the family is there is no power to coerce the children on the part of the parents? Can there be any law in the school, or anywhere else in society, if there’s no power to coerce? Then every man is his own law. St. Paul declares in Roman’s 13 Verse Four that the purpose of law is to be a terror to evil doers. Now, Paul meant exactly that. It is interesting that every modern translation does away with the word terror.

R.J. Rushdoony: 11:55 They’re all infected with the liberal mentality. They don’t like the idea that the idea can throw fear, terror into the hearts of evil doers. But this is precisely what St. Paul declares the purpose of the law is, and what the purpose of the civil government of those who rule should be. It is to be a terror to the evil doers. But today, the evil doers are a terror to the government. They have become the law of the land. Hoodlums march into Washington in the name of a poverty march. And what does a terrified government do, which subsidizes them to begin with? It gives them another hundred million dollars. It was a profitable march.

R.J. Rushdoony: 12:59 How is the terror in this case? The evil doers. The Scripture declares the law, the civil authority power, ordained power should be a terror to evil doers. For power has been so ordained of God for there is no power but of God. The powers that be are ordained of God. God is absolute power. All subordinate powers derive their office power and authority from Him, and must exist under his jurisdiction. They must therefore be a terror to evil doers.

R.J. Rushdoony: 14:05 But our modern world is distrustful of power, even as it concentrates power onto itself. One of the great liberals of the last century, Lord Acton declared in a saying that has become quite famous, “All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” A sad fact is, many conservatives have made this liberal half-truth their favorite saying. So, let’s analyze it.

R.J. Rushdoony: 14:45 First off all, all power does not corrupt. Godly power does not corrupt. The power of a Godly husband, a Godly father to govern does not corrupt him. If he uses it properly, under God, it does not corrupt him. It blesses his household, and it blesses him. The power of a man to administer that which is his, his property, his money, his rights, does not corrupt him. It blesses him in and society at large when it he uses it properly under God.

R.J. Rushdoony: 15:42 Power does not corrupt when it is used properly. Today we are faced with a twin evil with respect to the use of power. On the one hand, there is the fear of using power on the part of our liberals. On the other hand, there is the immoral, ungodly use of it to the destruction of society. One leads the lawlessness and anarchy. The other leads to totalitarianism. But power does not corrupt when power is properly used. What we need is a return to the proper use of power, to the respect for power and the ability to use it under God.

R.J. Rushdoony: 16:45 Second, Lord Acton said, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” If absolute power corrupts absolutely, then God, who is the only absolute power, is absolutely corrupt, and this is nonsense. Acton was wrong. Man cannot have absolute power. He may strive for it, but he always remains under the absolute power of God.

R.J. Rushdoony: 17:21 No only is all power derived from God and decreed by his absolute power, but it is also decreed and bound by his absolute righteousness. Law, when it is true law, is not only power, it is also righteousness. Therefore, it is a terror to evil doers.

R.J. Rushdoony: 17:53 St. Paul declares it is the praise of the Godly. That is it is their security, it is their praise, it is their reward. It protects them. It establishes them in their power, and in the liberty of their power. Over the very nature of the entire universe is to work to uphold it’s creator and his law. So it is that in the Song of Deborah we read when Deborah hails the triumph of God against Sisera, she says, “They fought from Heaven. The stars in their courses fought against Sisera.” The whole of nature, the whole of creation worked against those who fought against God.

R.J. Rushdoony: 19:12 Law is either righteous or it is anti-law masquerading as law. Today, all of your legal philosophies are anti-law. Marxism, legal positivism, Fabian socialist law, democratic doctrines of law, all deny the law is an approximation of ultimate order and truth. Their doctrine of law is total Humanism. They are the power. They make law. There is no truth beyond themselves. Whenever law is severed from righteousness and truth, it leads to anarchy and totalitarianism. Law, therefore, is not only power, but it is righteousness. It must be derived from absolute power, absolute righteousness, God, or it becomes inescapably totalitarian.

R.J. Rushdoony: 20:33 Moreover, St. Paul declares that law is ordained of God, and it is called to be the minister of God for good. The law is required to be a ministry of justice under God. Now this concept is humility to law. It is ministerial law. It is under God. It has limits to it’s power. It has limits to it’s jurisdiction. But all your modern doctrines of laws, from the democracies to Marxism, have no limits to their power, to their jurisdiction. The state is it’s own law. There is no sense of humility, no sense of limitation. And so your modern states with their doctrines of law are proud and arrogant. They are inescapably totalitarian, because they deny God.

R.J. Rushdoony: 21:54 Finally, law is always discriminatory. It must …

R.J. Rushdoony: 22:03 It must discriminate against law breakers. St Paul declares that it must be a terror to evil doers and the praise of the godly. Now this is discrimination, terror to one, security to another. There can be no equality, and at the same time law. Law always discriminates. It creates a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate. This means a fundamental inequality in society. Now the sentimental, all the softhearted do not like this. They’re always trying to break it, and as we shall see later, one of the points of entrance into breaking this is through children. They begin to say, there must be no discrimination between illegitimate and legitimate children. They must have equal rights. After all, it’s not the child’s fault. This is a half truth.

R.J. Rushdoony: 23:36 What is the implication of this sentimental stand. It breaks down the balance. If any illegitimate child can present himself as an heir, what has it done to the rights of the wife and of the legitimate children? It has destroyed them. Anyone can then appear under law and claim a right to an estate. This of course, has as its purpose, the breakdown of the families, the destruction of inheritance. The law is always discriminatory. I know at its place as a so called equality between the legitimate and the illegitimate child. It is creating an inequality for the family. It is destroying the family. It is discriminating against the family.

R.J. Rushdoony: 24:40 It is impossible to have any kind of legal system without having a fundamental inequality. What today the law is creating in the name of equality is a new kind of inequality. In other words, it is the Christian, it is the conservative, it is the law abiding, it is the hard working who are discriminated against, who are now the inferior. Any law that is passed the minute it becomes law creates discrimination, a distinction, an inequality. And even if you remove all law and return to the so called state of anarchy, you will then have inequality also in that some will survive and be more powerful than others.

R.J. Rushdoony: 25:45 Equality is an impossible concept. Attempts to use the law to establish equality are contradictions. They are either self deceived who dream of equality, or they are more commonly attempting to deceive others in order to gain power. Today, because men will not believe in God, they seek to make themselves gods. Thou shalt have no other God, no other powers before me. Today men are creating themselves and the state, their concept of the state, as those other gods and other powers. The goal of the revolutionary activities of our days is passed. It is not equal rights. It is not anything that they talk about but power.

R.J. Rushdoony: 27:05 The civil rights revolution is a case in point. When we analyze, for example, the Negro tradition as it goes back to Africa, we find that Africa, the whole goal of man with power, pure unadulterated power through magic, through killing, through voodoo, whatever it was. In this country the whole goal of the Negro, both as a slave and afterwards through voodoo was power. Incidentally, the voodoo songs have passed into the culture at large in the form of jazz. Jazz is voodoo music. Now, the purpose of voodoo was always power. It is simply the old savage desire for power without any responsibility, without righteousness, without God, that still motivates the civil rights revolution.

R.J. Rushdoony: 28:21 There is nothing that will stop it, short of total power, or short of godly power becoming a terror to these evil doers. The same is true of the student revolution. What has happened again and again as they have created revolutions on campus and demanded concessions from the administration? When the administration is conceited, they have demanded more. They have refused to agree to the concessions. Why? Because the concessions, however exorbitant the demands were previously, were a front for a demand for total power. In whatever direction we turn, the revolutionary demands, whatever they are, are a front for the demand for power, anti God power. Attempts to become the other powers, the other gods who are set before God. They cannot be dealt with until there is a return to biblical faith, to the belief in godly power.

R.J. Rushdoony: 30:13 The exercise of godly power by ourselves and the demand that there be godly power exercised by the state, let it become a terror to the evil doers and not to the godly. Until we recognize that the root of all of this that we face is precisely the great high idolatry of our day, the state as the power and as the god. Against this the scripture declared. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me. Let us pray.

R.J. Rushdoony: 31:16 Our Lord and our God we give thanks unto thee for this thy word. And we thank thee Our Father that in this day and age when men and nations seek to become gods, thou alone has absolute power. Thou art the only and the absolute and true God. No other powers, no other gods can exist before me. We await oh Lord, that thine action, thy judgment against the powers that be, confound them, oh Lord and destroy them. Protect, defend, deliver, establish, and give victory unto thy saints. Grant that we may be delivered from the enemy, confirmed in thy freedom, and established in thy power and that we may flourish and abound under thy praise and glory. Grant us this we beseech thee in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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.

Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting: https://chalcedon.edu/founder