The Restraint of Law

It guides us to love, and it helps us restrain evil.

Why There Isn’t More Evil (7)

Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. Romans 7.12

Law as restraint
One of the most basic functions of law is to restrain evil. Law codes prescribe conduct which, as it is obeyed, maintains order, fairness, and wellbeing in a society. Think of traffic laws. Who would venture forth in his car if there were no “rules of the road” defining which side of the highway people should drive on, how fast they may go, when it’s proper to turn or pass, and so forth? Bad drivers are everywhere; but think how terrible and frightening it would be to drive in the absence of any laws restraining the bad behavior of drivers.

Law has power to restrain evil. But law can itself become evil, especially when laws are crafted from an under-the-sun perspective and according to the changing whims and moral preferences of secular, narcissistic people.

In our society today, many things have become law which our forebears would never have countenanced, including abortion on demand, legitimizing marriage as anything other than one man and one woman, and many more. Such laws not only do not restrain evil, they encourage it, and thus provide fertile soil for tares of wickedness to proliferate in the Lord’s field.

No society can exist without laws. But law can work either for good or for evil, and only those laws which can be shown to be good can help to ensure that evil will be restrained.

American law and God’s Law  
As we have seen, when English settlers came to the New World to carve homes out of the wilderness, they brought with them a tradition of law known as English common law. This was largely unwritten law, based on precedent and upheld by learned judges and skillful advocates for centuries. Much of English common law originated in the canon law promulgated under the authority of the Church in the Middle Ages.

Those laws, in turn, derived from the Law of God in Scripture – the Ten Commandments and the civil laws of Israel.

In the absence of sufficient trained jurists in the American colonies, lawmakers took to writing law codes. As we have seen, many of those codes were either based on or simply drawn verbatim from Biblical Law, and brought the neighbor-love of God’s Law to practical expression in colonial America.

But they also served to keep wickedness in check.

Put another way, when our forebears on these shores sought for ways to restrain evil in their new communities, they turned to law, and the law they turned to had its origins in the Law of God in Scripture. We have seen how the Law of God continues to exert effects on American law, and thus to restrain evil in our society. That the Law of God is included on the bas relief frieze above the entrance to the Supreme Court provides a permanent reminder of the importance of Biblical Law for restraining evil and bringing good to our society.

Still needed
This is still the case in America today, in spite of the fact that courts and lawmakers are working relentlessly to turn law itself into a “dynamic” or “progressive” entity rather than a fixed and unchangeable code.

Laws against stealing, killing, attacking, and performing various other kinds of evil against persons have their origins, not in the enlightened minds of secular scholars or the observations of Darwinian biologists, but in the tradition of law handed down from our European forebears. No, they were not always consistent in using the Law, and, yes, they sometimes misused the teaching Scripture to support evil practices. But the various types of justice which law is intended to sustain and promote can all be found outlined and illustrated in the Bible. Even the requirement of a fair trial in the presence of witnesses is a Biblical principle of law that we consider to be a bare essential against all the various forms of evil.

The functions of law include restraining evil and overcoming its adverse effects, and the laws of Western societies have been erected on a foundation of Biblical statute. And if anyone does not believe that Biblical Law is a powerful restraint against evil, ask him to imagine a society where there are no constraints on human passion – where robbery, rape, lying, murder, slander, violence, and mayhem of every sort are merely tactical options, to be used with calculation and cunning, rather than punishable offenses against persons and society.

No one wants to live in such a place. Whoever protests that he can’t believe in the Gospel because of the presence of evil in the world shows his ignorance of the power of Christian faith – including the Law of God – to restrain evil.

For reflection
1.  Give some examples of how law restrains evil. Can you see how these examples relate to the Law of God in Scripture?

2.  Christians today are not as well instructed in the Law of God as they might be. Is this a good thing? Explain.

3.  Should Christians work to see the principles of justice, fairness, and order encoded in God’s Law shape the laws of our land? Explain.

Next steps – Conversation: How can believers help one another to understand and practice the many benefits of the Law of God? Talk with some Christian friends about this question.

A free PDF of this week’s study is available to download by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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