Good Law or Big Fist
Emperor Justinian, Christian Ruler and Confessor of Christ
14 November 2017
Emperor Justinian (A.D. c. 482-565), the great lawgiver of late antiquity, said, "Imperial majesty must not only be adorned with arms, but also armed with laws." His legal code has influenced western law down to the present. Despite living a turbulent political life, Justinian was also a great patron of the church, supporting it both financially and theologically. He also rebuilt the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople after political rioting destroyed it in 532. However, his greatest lasting gift to the world was good law for good government.
 
Good government gives peace to the world in which the church is free to proclaim the Christ. The church certainly has a stake in the maintenance of peace and tranquility. For only in that environment will the gospel have free and unlimited access to humans for their salvation. On the one hand, if there is anarchy the gospel will get lost in the chaos and on the other, oppressive government threatens to silence the preaching of Christ. This is why the church never fails to pray for rulers. "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1Ti 2:1-4).
 
Good government preserves the gifts of the first article of the Creed: family, life, chastity, and property. These good gifts of God require human restraint for their proper use. And if we will not restrain ourselves, God will see to it by government. The threat of punishment, while a blunt instrument, is the only restraining factor in the lives of some people. Those who live undisciplined, wild, even bestial lives must be restrained with whatever tools are at the disposal of civil society. Without the restraint of law and good government the beasts will prowl about our society and ultimately destroy its peace and good order. We see signs of the bestial life in many places in the world. Texans are particularly plagued by the war zone created by drug dealers just across the border in Mexico. Now certainly we invite this anarchy by our lack of discipline which seeks the illicit drugs these drug gangs make available to the affluent American market. There is plenty of blame to go around, which highlights the horrible anarchy that ensues when beastly humans are left without proper restraint.
 
Therefore, we thank God for the gift of strong and faithful governors who both restrain themselves and see to the restraint of others who are piercing the boundaries which civil society imposes on its citizens. We more especially thank God for those lawmakers who leave a legacy of good law; law not dependent upon the power of the strong man. We need to be ruled by laws, not by men. In a truly civil society, it should matter very little who is elected if (and it is a big if), everyone is equally restrained by the same laws. Good law is better than a big fist.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"Worldly government is a glorious ordinance and splendid gift of God, who has instituted and established it and will have it maintained as something men cannot do without. If there were no worldly government, one man could not stand before another; each would necessarily devour the other, as irrational beasts devour one another. Therefore, as it is the function and honor of the office of preaching to make sinners saints, dead men live, damned men saved, and the devil's children God's children, so it is the function and honor of worldly government to make men out of wild beasts and to prevent men from becoming wild beasts. It protects a man's body so that no one may slay it; it protects a man's wife so that no one may seize and defile her; it protects a man's child, his daughter or son, so that no one may carry them away and steal them; it protects a man's house so that no one may break in and wreck things; it protects a man's fields and cattle and all his goods so that no one may attack, steal, plunder, or damage them. Protection of this sort does not exist among the beasts, and if it were not for worldly government there would be none of it among men either; they would surely cease to be men and become mere beasts. Do you not think that if the birds and beasts were to see the worldly government that exists among men they would say (if they could speak) 'O men! Compared with us you are not men but gods! What security you have, both you and your possessions, while among us no one is safe from another regarding life, home, or food supply, not even for a moment! Shame upon your ingratitude-you do not even see what a splendid life the God of us all has given you compared with us beasts!'
 
"It is certain, then, that temporal authority is a creation and ordinance of God, and that for us men in this life it is a necessary office and estate which we can no more dispense with than we can dispense with life itself, since without such an office this life cannot continue. That being true, it is easy to understand that God has not commanded and instituted it only to have it destroyed. On the contrary, he wills to have it maintained, as is clearly stated by Paul in Romans 13 [:4], and in 1 Peter 3 [2:13-14], to protect those who do good and to punish those who do wrong. Now who will maintain this office except us men to whom God has committed it, and who truly need it? The wild beasts will not maintain it, nor will wood and stone. And what men are capable of doing it? Certainly not those who would rule only with the fist, as many now think to do. For if men were to rule solely by the fist, the end result would surely be a bestial kind of existence: whoever could get the better of another would simply toss him into the discard pile. We have enough examples before our eyes to see what the fist can accomplish apart from wisdom or reason.
 
"This is why Solomon says in Proverbs 8 [:14-15] that wisdom, not force, must rule. He speaks of wisdom this way, 'I, Wisdom, have counsel and sound wisdom. I have insight, I have strength. By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just.' And Ecclesiastes 10 [9:18, 16] says, 'Wisdom is better than weapons of war'; and again, 'Wisdom is better than might.' All experience proves this and in all the histories we find that force, without reason or wisdom, has never once accomplished anything. Indeed, even murderers and tyrants, if they are not clever enough to adopt for themselves and among themselves some kind of laws and regulations to control and limit the power of the fist (even though these be equally wicked), will not be able to continue; they will fall out among themselves and perish by each other's hand. Briefly, then, it is not the law of the fist but the law of the head that must rule-not force but wisdom or reason-among the wicked as well as among the good."

Martin Luther, A Sermon on Children in School
Psalm 72

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice! Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness! May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor! May they fear you while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations! May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth! In his days may the righteous flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more! May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! May desert tribes bow down before him and his enemies lick the dust! May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight. Long may he live; may gold of Sheba be given to him! May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all the day! May there be abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field! May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed! Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen! (ESV)
Prayer
Lord, keep this country under Your care. Bless the leaders of our land that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth. Grant that we may choose trustworthy leaders, contribute to wise decisions for the general welfare, and serve You faithfully in our generation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
For physicians and other health professionals, that they might be upheld by Christ the Lord in their offices as those who alleviate suffering and care for the sick
 
For the Council of Presidents of the LCMS, that they might work together for the good of the church
 
For all those who labor in their parishes, that they might not become wearying in well doing 
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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