IBL03: Third Commandment (Craig Press)
Negativism and the Law
*This is an unedited and unoffical print version of R.J. Rushdoony’s lecture.
R.J. Rushdoony: 00:01 Exodus 20:1-7. Exodus 20, verses 1 through 7. “And God speak all these words saying I am the Lord thy God, which has born thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them. For I the Lord thy God am a jealous god visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children under the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. For the Lord will not hold him guiltless, but taketh his name in vain.”
R.J. Rushdoony: 01:21 Our subject this week is, as we begin the third commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” but one word, “Not.” Next Sunday we shall begin a consideration of the third commandment properly, a very, very important one with considerations that link it very closely to modern revolutionary movements. But for the moment, we shall consider just one word that appears in this and all but one of the commands. No or not.
R.J. Rushdoony: 02:07 The negativity of the commandments. Of all the commandments, only one does not contain a negative. The fifth. “Honor they father and they mother.” All the others are negative in form and indeed, virtually all the law is negative in the bible. And at this point the modern mind objects. Negativism is to it very offensive, tyrannical, and we frequently find, especially among the intellectual and college youth, a longing for a positive conception of law and its function.
R.J. Rushdoony: 02:59 The law, we are told, should have a positive note. It should be for something instead of being mere negation. Indeed, this aspect of law is dealt with by the peace and freedom party and its candidate for president, the Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, has called for a more positive note in all law. Indeed he has said that police officers should be abolished because their work is essentially negation and be replaced by public safety officials whose work would be positive.
R.J. Rushdoony: 03:51 Well, the phrase is a very familiar one. Public safety officials. The French Revolution established public safety officials. The conclusion of public safety officials was, of course, the reign of terror. We shall see very quickly why negativism in the law essential. The basic statement of a positive function for the law comes out of antiquity. [inaudible 00:04:34] the law in our paganism had its positive function, but it is all summed up in the basic Roman legal principal.
R.J. Rushdoony: 04:46 The health of the people is the highest law. The health of the people is the highest law. This concept is now part of world law. It has been read into the Constitution through the General Welfare Clause and of course the framers of the Constitution had no such idea in mind, they never dreamed of it, but now the general welfare clause in the preamble has been read in terms of the Roman principle, the health of the people is the highest law.
R.J. Rushdoony: 05:38 What else, before we look at this idea of law as a positive thing, examine the biblical approach to law which is negation. The idea of law as a negative thing confers a double benefit upon any people first. Laws then deal specifically and restrictively with a particular evil. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain and thou shalt not bear false witness. In other words, the law is specific and it is limited.
R.J. Rushdoony: 06:36 It deals specifically and realistically with a particular evil which it prohibits, which it declares to be illicit, illegal. Law, thus, has a modest function. Law is limited in its power and therefore the State is limited. The State has an enforcing agency, is limited to dealing with evil, not controlling the [inaudible 00:07:16].
R.J. Rushdoony: 07:16 Secondly, this negative conception of law, which we find in the Bible, ensures liberty. It means that except for the prohibited areas, all of the man’s life is free. When the law says, “Thou shalt not steal,” it specifically prohibits any interference with property and it means then that the State has no jurisdiction in respect to property except where there is a theft. It is not given power over all property, only over the theft of property. As a result, the State is totally limited, then, to dealing with evil.
R.J. Rushdoony: 08:15 When you say, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, and thou shalt not bear false witness,” and you [inaudible 00:08:24] the law to these areas where it deals with speech, it means you have freedom of expression otherwise. As a result, the negativity of the law is the preservation of the positive life and freedom of man.
R.J. Rushdoony: 08:51 The whole concept of the law as a negative statement means that the law must concern itself with evil. With governing, with controlling evil, not with governing and controlling good. And when the law gains a positive function, then it is not concerned with controlling evil so much as with controlling everything. With controlling you, your speech, your property, your life. If the health of the people is the highest law, then the concern of the State is everything in your life. Its concern is your physical health, its concern is your mental health, its concern is your spiritual health, so it’s going to govern your life from A to Z.
R.J. Rushdoony: 10:01 For when law has a positive function, the State has total jurisdiction to compel the total health of the people. As a result, a positive law has a double penalty. First, it posits an omnicompetent State. A totally competent State. The State, has the concern with the total health of the people. And if the State has a concern with the total health of the people, you have to assume that the State has the ability and the power and the knowledge to give total health to the people. Everything is now a part of the State’s jurisdiction, because everything can contribute to or hurt the health of the people. The law is now unlimited and the State becomes unlimited.
R.J. Rushdoony: 11:17 When the law has a positive function it becomes the business of the state not to control evil, but to control all men. A positive conception of the law is basic to all totalitarianism. Moreover, this means that no area of liberty can exist for man. There is no area of things indifferent, or to use the New Testament expression, [foreign language 00:11:55] of things that are not in the province of the law. All actions, thoughts, and concerns, the State must govern in the name of “public health.”
R.J. Rushdoony: 12:15 The health of the people is the highest law. And of course, the idea of an omnicompetent State, a totally competent State means an incompetent people. So when the State assumes a positive function, it means that the people are a negative factor. When the law as in scripture is given a negative function, it is assumed that the people are a positive force. And under positive law, the State becomes nursemaid, to childish, immature people who are not developed enough, not capable enough to take care of themselves.
R.J. Rushdoony: 13:06 Now at this point, people would say, “Well of course your Christian doctrine talks about people being sinners, therefore it is in agreement with our opposition. Doesn’t it say that all people are childish?” Very definitely not. The doctrine of sin does not declare that men are childish. Or immature. Adam was created a mature man. Sin was not a fall into childishness, but a rebellion against responsibility. It was a mature act. It was a deliberate, mature rebellion against responsibility. Total depravity means rebellion against responsibility. It is not immaturity, it is a deliberate, willful rebellion. Man is a rebel and his course is not childishness, not immaturity, but sin. It is not ignorance, but willful folly.
R.J. Rushdoony: 14:27 At this point, it is instructive to understand what the scripture means by the word “A fool.” And I think since Proverbs teaches us most about fools, it would be worthwhile to examine a commentary on Proverbs, and a summation of what Proverbs teaches concerning the fool. And I shall quote, this is a summation of the teachings of scripture, and I shall not take the time to read all of the Biblical citations. “The root of his trouble is spiritual, not mental. He likes his folly, going back to it like a dog that returns to his vomit. He has no reverence for Truth, preferring comfortable illusions. At bottom, what he is rejecting is the fear of the Lord. It is this that constitutes him a fool. And this that makes his complacency tragic. For the careless ease of fools shall destroy him. In society, the fool is in a word, a menace. At best, he wastes your time. You will not find a word of sense in him.”
R.J. Rushdoony: 15:52 That’s a literal quotation from Proverbs 14:7. And he may be a more serious nuisance if he has an idea in his head nothing will stop him. “Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man rather than a fool in his folly.” Whether that folly is some prank that is beyond a joke, or some quarrel he must pick and run to death. Give him a wide berth for the companion of fools shall smart for him. And if you want to send him away, don’t send him with a message. This is the fool. And folly is built into a fool. It is his nature, it is his love, it is his being.
R.J. Rushdoony: 16:46 I recall some years ago, an interesting episode. A very remarkable doctor who was associated and on the faculty of a major medical school told me once of a problem, a minor one and yet an annoying one, that confronted him. A good friend who was a member of several clubs of which he was a member, a prominent businessman, a golfing partner, did have a serious ailment. And he was going to a doctor who had a very bad reputation, a doctor who had no humility and attempted to treat everything for which he was not competent, who assumed he was a specialist on everything when he was barely competent.
R.J. Rushdoony: 17:56 And everyone was telling him, “Please, tell Ed to go to another doctor.” And of course he refused. And as he told me, he said, “First of all, it’s not ethical for me to interfere, and second, although I like Ed, on a purely social basis, Ed is a fool. And if they talk him out of this doctor, he’ll go to another who is as bad or worse.” The conclusion of it was that the friends did talk him out of going to this doctor and the amazing part of it is he searched high and low for another doctor to go to and he found almost the only one in that county who was of an equally low ability in character and reputation. A fool and his folly cannot be separated.
R.J. Rushdoony: 19:05 We have had in recent years a great deal of legislation, for example, in the area of medicine. And yet the other day, the federal government admitted that since they began to control medicine, [inaudible 00:19:29] has increased. It is now a $2 billion a year business. Two billion dollars. Have they altered the situation any by legislation? No. What has happened? A generation of fools will go after folly because folly is written into their nature. The government outlawed little black boxes that give magical cures years and years ago, and yet the ironic fact is that a current best seller by a very famous journalist and writer, which is a book club selection, has a chapter on the marvelous cures through this little black box.
R.J. Rushdoony: 20:24 Let us examine then a little more closely, a positive functioning of the law where most people do consider it good in the area where I have just been discussing. Doctors. It is interesting to note that the federal control and federal and state legislations governing doctors was a work of the Rockefeller family and foundation. It began about the time most of us were born. The Rockefeller family felt the State should enter into this area and control the doctors. Not too long ago there was an anniversary volume written, I think, on the 50 years work of the Rockefellers in this area, congratulating themselves on the tremendous progress in medicine.
R.J. Rushdoony: 21:28 Now the question we need to ask, “Has this progress been due to governmental control or the work of the medical profession? Has not the profession been responsible for its own progress?” And here is another fact. As the State controls increase, there are growing charges of malpractice. And suits for malpractice. Why? As a matter of fact, the federal government is busy now investigating doctors and drug companies. This book, for example, is based entirely on testimony before Congress about the evils of the profession.
R.J. Rushdoony: 22:31 What is involved here? Again, let us look at law and significance. One of the basic principles in any society in any law system is the concept of liability. This is an inescapable concept. You can abolish the word but the same concept comes back. It is inescapable in any society, in any law system. Now, if you have a negative concept of law, a negative State, that is a limited State, you have a positive conception of people. People are then responsible. But if you have a positive conception of the law then you have a negative conception of people, they are not responsible, but does the State assume responsibility? No. The State then takes liability which once was associated with people who violated a fundamental principle of law and transfers it, not to itself, but to a responsible element in society. Capable, responsible people.
R.J. Rushdoony: 24:03 Now let’s go back to ancient society. Pagan society. Whether in Europe or in Egypt or in Babylon, wherever you go. Now history books only occasionally mention this and they do not deal honestly with this fact. But when you go back to pagan society where the law had a positive function, what was the concept of liability? There was total liability by the responsible members of society. This meant that if a doctor treated a patient and the patient died, the doctor was killed. He was guilty of murder. There was total liability. It didn’t make any difference whether the doctor was entirely competent and had done his best, and the patient was hopeless, he still died. Because liability is an inescapable concept. You’re going to have it in society.
R.J. Rushdoony: 25:12 The only question is, where? And the more you develop a positive conception of law, the more you are going to transfer liability from a people who are deemed incompetent to the only element in society that is still maintaining responsibility. That’s why malpractice suits are increasing. The patient is no longer a responsible person. He is a child, according to law. So the doctors are getting back the old pagan total liability. And it may not be too many years at the present rate of development before they will be liable to murder charges. This has already been hinted at. So today a doctor does not even dare be a good Samaritan if there is an accident. Why? Whereas once any doctor would have stopped to treat people at an accident scene, today he incurs so fearful a liability that it is a dangerous thing for him to stop and give emergency help.
R.J. Rushdoony: 26:41 And what is happening in law generally? Well just this last week, Dr. Richard R. Korn, who is a professor at Berkeley and the University of California’s School of Criminology spoke with horror of the fact concerning our laws against prostitutes and prostitution. Why? He describes prostitutes as “Alienated poor children looking for a better way of life.” Who’s responsible for them? Who bears the liability? Society. Society.
R.J. Rushdoony: 27:29 “Oh,” but you say, “The prostitutes are a part of society and the pimps are a part of society and the criminals are a part of society. The mafia is a part of society.” Oh, no, no. They’re not. Because you see, they’re irresponsible. Who bears the liability? You do. Why? You are a responsible citizen. And so the responsible element in society bears the total liability. Until, when you reach the totalitarian stage as with Marxism, who has to be liquidated? The Christians and the capitalists. They bear the total liability for all the ills of society and you cannot escape liability.
R.J. Rushdoony: 28:21 So, if you’re going to have a positive function of the law, if you’re going to say doctors cannot police themselves and the State has to police them, you’re going to end up with total liability. And you’re going to destroy finally that which you supposedly set out to protect. And as a result, the responsible are penalized with total liability.
R.J. Rushdoony: 29:04 Today if a man invades your home whereas in the Biblical Law this invasion occurs at night you have the right to kill him. Now, you are liable to prosecution for murder, according to our Supreme Court. Unless you had your back to the wall and there was no further room for a fight and you gave him every warning to leave and he was trying to kill you. Then and then alone, you have the right to kill him. And, if someone, a hoodlum, climbs the fence into your back yard in order to break into your home, you have an excavation there, a post hole, or are putting in a new sewer line and he falls in and breaks his leg, you are liable.
R.J. Rushdoony: 30:17 This is what happens when the law assumes a positive function. When the law loses its negativity, when the law assumes a positive function, it protects criminals and fools and penalizes responsible men. Either then, we return to Biblical Law, to the Biblical Doctrine of Responsibility, to a negative, limited concept of law, or we do have Totalitarianism, and total liability for responsible men. Biblical Law then is a necessity for the survival of responsibility. Let us pray.
R.J. Rushdoony: 31:26 Our Lord, and our God, we give thanks unto Thee for this, thy work. We thank Thee that Thou didst make us to be men. Mature men. And we thank Thee that in Jesus Christ, Thou has restored us to responsibility. Give us grace, faith, knowledge and courage. And enable us our Father, by thy grace, to restore this country to Biblical Law. To a true concept of liability and responsibility. To make again the function of the law the suppression of evil, rather than the control of the good. That once again, we might enjoy liberty under Thee and might be a godly people. 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
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