A Government of Laws and not of Men

Since we’re already in the protracted electoral process, I thought I’d go a little far afield for this blog and say a thing or two about statecraft in the abstract and let my readers apply it to the current process.

The founders of America were students of history who generally shared a Christian worldview. Key elements of that worldview include:

God exists and created all things for His glory

Man was made in the image of God but rebelled against Him by sinning and now is cursed, possessing a fallen nature that affects every fiber of his being

God revealed Himself to us through the incarnate Word, Jesus, and in His written word, the Scriptures

Our only hope, in this life and the next, is God’s mercy made manifest through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus

God is the King Eternal, the ruler over all His creation and the disposer of all things by His wise providence

In this life, as we trust in Christ, we are made new creations in Christ, but indwelling sin will always be a reality of life in this world with perfection awaiting us in the new heavens and the new earth

So, what does all this have to do with statecraft? Following is my effort to apply these things to the field of government/statecraft in a way that I believe is, for the most part, consistent with the founders of America’s application represented in our founding documents. I have been brief on purpose as there is a lot more that could be said on each of these topics.

Due to the sinfulness of man, power should be distributed downward as close to the people being ruled as possible with a bias against all centralization of power – This is a foundational principle that is illustrated in Exodus 18 as Moses heeds his father-in-law’s advice and appoints rulers of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. This was implemented in America via a limited central government with all remaining authority left to the states & the people and even a distribution of powers in the limited central government.

All authority, including civil government, is from God – Romans 13 makes this clear. Every government official receives his authority to govern from God, whether he acknowledges it or not (and he should!). Government has been instituted for a purpose by God with a limited sphere of authority. That authority is primarily to be used “for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and the punishment of evil doers” (Westminster Confession of Faith). Give some thought to that last sentence as you think about the ubiquitous presence of government … central, state, & local … in American life today.

The written Word is objective & knowable and is our rule for faith and life, constraining us … in the same way, a government made up of men should have a rule/standard that is written and knowable to constrain it – In America, this rule/law to constrain the central government is the Constitution. The central government derives its authority from the Constitution and if a power is not enumerated in that document, it is left to the states or the people (see the 9th and 10th amendments). The constitution doesn’t say much about state governments but it does guarantee that they be small “r” republican governments – governments of law and not of men – modeled after the structure of the central government itself. America is a representative republic and not a democracy – a government constrained by law and not subject to the will of the majority.

We should trust in God, who raises the dead, and not in men – Our hope is always in God and not in a man, no matter how compelling he appears. All children of Adam are sinners and we should never lose sight of this.

With those things in mind, I’ll close with a couple questions to ponder as you evaluate the Presidential candidates:

Is the candidate a man of proven character and principle or not … this ought to be the first test regardless of their position on any issue?

Does the candidate openly acknowledge that he is under God’s authority?

Does the candidate see government’s role as limited (submitting to God’s design) or possessing virtually unlimited authority to address every problem (acting as God)?

Does the candidate assume that he can and should address any and all problems or does he explicitly point us to the law constraining the central government, the Constitution, as our guide for what he can and can’t do? (In other words, does he understand and submit to the American system of government by law?)

Is the candidate ultimately asking us to trust him and his plans to “fix” things or is he, implicitly or explicitly, acknowledging that we must trust primarily in God and secondarily, in the government of laws under God that we’ve been given?

2 thoughts on “A Government of Laws and not of Men”

  1. As I read Ben Carson’s book “Rx for America”, he seems to be the closest of the presidential hopefuls to matching the desired person with positive answers to your 5 questions. Do you agree?

    1. I have intentionally tried to stay away from individual candidate endorsements in favor of biblical principles that ought to be applied to each candidate. Many will clearly fail this test and a few will be left for people of good will to debate about.

      It seems to me the appeal of Carson is his outsider status, noteworthy career outside of politics, plainspoken way, and outspoken Christian faith. As far as Carson is concerned, several questions to consider: Does he have an overarching political philosophy or not? I don’t think anyone doubts he’s a man of principle but has he extended those principles to develop a well-rounded philosophy of governing, rooted in the scriptures, and informed by the history of men and nations? Does he fundamentally understand the system of government the founders gave to America and the underlying assumptions about human nature that informed the form of that government, in all its details?

      I believe these are critical questions, based on what I wrote in the original post, and I haven’t seen Carson demonstrate these things to-date.

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