Embassy of Heaven

Christians and the Law-Courts

 

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Law of God and the law of man

It is wrongly said that the Christian teaching relates only to personal salvation and not to public, political questions. That is merely an audacious and barefaced assertion which is most obviously false and collapses as soon as it is seriously considered. 'Very well, I will not resist the evil doer, I will turn my cheek as a private individual,' say I to myself; but if an enemy comes, or the people are oppressed, and I am called on to take part in the struggle against the evil men and to go and kill them, then it is imperative for me to decide wherein lies the service of God, and wherein the service of 'the vain thing.' Am I to go to the war or not? I am a peasant, and am chosen to serve as a village elder, a judge, or a juryman, and I am told to take an oath to judge and to inflict punishment. What am I to do? Again I have to choose between the law of God and the law of man. Or I am a monk living in a monastery, and some peasants have taken our hay and I am sent to participate in the struggle against the evil men and to take legal proceedings against the peasants. Again I have to choose. No one can escape from the question. I speak not merely of our class whose activity consists almost entirely in resisting evil men: in the army, in the courts of justice, or in civil offices, there is not a single private person, however humble, who has not to choose between serving God by obeying His command, or serving the 'vain thing' - state institutions. My private life is interwoven with the general life of the state which demands of me an unchristian activity directly contrary to the law of Christ. Now with universal military service and the liability of all to serve on a jury this dilemma is sharply presented to us all in a very striking manner. Every man must take the weapons of murder - a sword and a bayonet - and must either kill, or at least load the rifle and sharpen the sword, that is, prepare to kill. Every citizen must appear at the law-courts and participate in trial and punishment, that is to say, must repudiate Christ's law about not resisting him that is evil, and must do it not merely in words but in deeds.

The grenadier's question - The Gospel or the military code? The law of God or man's law? - now presents itself to humanity as it did in the days of Samuel. It presented itself to Christ himself, and to his disciples. It stands before those who now wish to be Christians in deed, and it stood before me.

The law of Christ, and his teachings of love, humility, and self-repudiation had previously always touched my heart and attracted me. But from all sides, both in history and around me at the present day and in my own life, I saw a contrary law, repugnant to my heart and conscience and reason, but harmonizing with my animal instincts. I felt if I accepted the law of Christ I should be isolated and it would go ill with me, I should be one of the persecuted and suffering, as Christ predicted. While if I accepted man's law everyone would approve of it, and I should be at peace, secure, and have at my service all manner of theological subtleties to set my conscience at rest. I should laugh and be merry as Christ said. I felt this, and therefore did not penetrate into the meaning of Christ's law, but tried to understand it so that it should not prevent my living my accustomed animal life. But to understand it so was impossible, and therefore I did not understand it at all.

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