Donald Macleod on the state and the law of God

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Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
In the midst of discussing the three uses of the law, Professor Macleod makes the following comments concerning the first use of the law:

As far as the political use of the law was concerned, Luther and Calvin were thinking very much in terms of the relationship between civil government and divine law and arguing that government is bound by the law of God. Just as an individual is bound by the whole of the Decalogue so is any human corporation, not least the state. Indeed, the only protection we have against an absolutist state is the concept of the state as the servant of God, or the deacon of God, as Paul calls it in Romans 13:4. The Reformers insisted that when the state enacts laws, those must correspond to the law of God. Where the state enacts penal sanctions, those penalties must correspond to the law of God. The state is God's minister, the avenger of God's wrath (Romans 13:4). The magistrate is not there to express his own personal views of human behaviour. He is there not to express his own assessment of the gravity of the crime but God's assessment of the gravity of the crime. He has no right to approach these problems simply from the standpoint of social utility, asking what kind of laws our society is prepared to accept, or what kind of penalties our society needs.

[...] The political use of the law means that in all its legislation (for example, marriage laws, industrial legislation, Sunday trading) the state must be conscious of God looking over its shoulder. It never has the right to pass autonomous legislation divorced from absolute divine norms. Sadly, a new legislative tradition is now firmly established. We have moved from God's standards to considerations of mere social convenience. The inevitable outcome will be laws which degrade and dehumanise.

Donald Macleod, A faith to live by: understanding Christian doctrine (2nd edn, Fearn, 2002), pp 226-7.
 
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