2. The Necessary Vision (Remastered)

R.J. Rushdoony • Mar, 15 2024

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  • Series: Christ, Politics, and the Media (Remastered)
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The Necessary Vision

R.J. Rushdoony

Our subject in this session is ‘the necessary vision.’ According to Proverbs 29:18:

Where there is no vision, the people perish:

But he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

The word ‘vision’ can be rendered ‘revelation’ or ‘the prophetic ministry of the revelation,’ God’s law word. The reference is clearly to God’s word, his every word as law. Because the second half of the sentence says:

He that keepeth the law, [the vision, the revelation - RJR] happy is he.

Thus the reference is not to a peoples foresight, but their awareness of what God reveals and their obedience to it. There is death where there is no knowledge and faithfulness, but keeping God’s law brings blessedness. The word for ‘perish’ can also be translated ‘go naked.’ The blindness of a people to God’s revelation leaves them naked and defenseless, and they soon perish without his law. Any church or culture blind to God’s law is soon stripped naked and destroyed.

Clearly this has been the trend for some years for some generations. Consider a recent case in Nebraska. A man with twisted and bizarre sexual tastes saw a picture of a bride-to-be in the newspaper. He began stalking her, and when he found that she was alone at home he broke in brutally raped her and murdered her; a particularly gruesome and fearful crime. He was convicted, he was sentenced to death, there was not the slightest question with regard to his guilt. But the supreme court of Nebraska reversed the decision. Why? Because the death penalty in Nebraska is prescribed for depraved crimes, and they failed to see the crime as depraved.

As Mike Roy commented in his column:

“The thing is, Nebraska laws try to be specific about which murders should or shouldn’t be executed, and the state law said that the murder must be especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel, or that it shows exceptional depravity by ordinary standards of morality and intelligence. The state supreme court, in a four to three decision, decided that this murder didn’t measure up to those standards. For one thing, the victim hadn’t really suffered enough. For another, the murderer wasn’t really out to take her suffer, his main objective was to gratify a sexual urge. The majority said the evidence establishes that the victim was rendered unconscious within a short time of the defendant’s intrusion into her home. It therefore cannot be said that the murder was of the nature prescribed in the state law.”

The ‘justices,’ as courtesy requires they be called, went on to say:

“To be sure, forcing items into the victim's throat and strangulation itself were cruel, but not especially so, for any forcible killing requires some violence towards the victim, there is no evidence that the acts were performed for the satisfaction of inflicting either mental or physical pain, or that pain existed for any prolonged period of time. Maybe I’m a sissy, but I think that going into a woman’s home stuffing clothing down her throat, strangling her, raping her, and drowning her in a bathtub is pretty heinous, atrocious, cruel, and depraved. There is a way that we could be a little more certain about the extent one’s suffering over a brief period of time, we could have a scientific experiment, if those four learned Nebraska judges would care to join me. It’s simple enough, your honors, just open your mouths real wide and hand me your black robes and we’ll begin stuffing. And if it starts getting too heinous, atrocious, and cruel for you, just make a gurgling sound.”

This is what happens when the law ceases to be God’s law. It becomes then ungodly law; law that does violence to justice, law that does violence to God’s order. Paul, in Romans 13:1-4 declares, and this is something all too many forget when they throw this verse at us telling we should be obedient no matter what. Paul tells us civil government should be a terror to evildoers, not to the Godly. The Nebraska supreme court is a terror to the godly. And the same is true in many states, and in many Federal courts. The civil government is a bearer of the sword, according to scripture, and that means the bearer of coercive power!

As such, every civil government is a terror to somebody. The word terror to the Greek is ‘phobos,’ which we have in the word ‘phobia.’ Power always leads to fear or terror, but !by whom? That’s the question we need to raise. We see in this country a steady rise of confiscatory taxation. If you have moved lately for any distance there’s a good chance you will be audited and you will be in trouble because after every move you lose a lot of your records, you have trouble laying your hands on your files and you’re an easy target. The tax collectors powers are very great, and more efficient than the policing power of the state towards criminals. Only one percent of all crimes result in any conviction, one percent!

Civil government functions today efficiently only in collecting taxes, regulating families, controlling businesses and churches, not in controlling crime! Not in controlling evil doers! Moreover, those of us who are self-governing are the easiest targets. We’re the ones who are honest, who keep records, who are visible, who are not acting like criminals, and trying to evade the tax collectors and the regulators. Tyranny throughout history has always been most hostile to the good. When Tertullian pleaded with the Roman emperor: “Why do you persecute us Christians? We are your most honest citizens, your most honest taxpayers, your best soldiers. Why us?” The answer was an obvious one. Every civil government as it becomes a tyranny begins to oppress its best citizens most of all because it has joined the ranks, as Saint Augustine said, of the criminals. It becomes, as Augustine saw, the supreme Mafia.

The state is the central human coercive power. A very dangerous fact if the state strays from God and his law. It has become now the coercive educator, and in some parts of the world allows only statist education and in some parts of the United States is working towards that end. It has become the educator also in the emotional sense; because in the modern age we speak of one’s country as the ‘motherland’ or the ‘fatherland,’ a very significant usage.

It existed in paganism, it disappeared with the triumph of Christianity, and it has reasserted itself with the modern era and Humanism. Loyalty to the state has replaced the old family loyalties, and loyalty to Christ’s people and congregation. The state teaches by example and the results are devastating to society. The Bible tells us that God reveals himself in his word, in his law. They reveal what he is. This is not true of human sovereigns. They give their laws for their subjects, not to bind themselves.

Years ago, Justice Louis Brandeis was in a famous dissent declared;

“Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizens. In a government of laws, the existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the laws scrupulously. Our government is the potent, omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious; if the government becomes the law breaker it breeds contempt for law. It invites every man to become a law unto itself, it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law ‘the end justifies the means,’ to declare that a government may commit crimes in order to procure the conviction of a private criminal would bring terrible retribution.” 1

We are today in the midst of such a retribution. Too often Christians that replace loyalty to the Lord with loyalty to the state, a false teacher. The Apostles said “…we ought to obey God rather than men…”, and yet, it’s sad in state after state to see ministers, priests, and nuns parade onto the witness stand to give testimony to the blessings of obeying the state and allowing the state to control their schools. Behind this weakness of the churches is a weak faith, or no faith at all!

James Turner, a contemporary historian, has shown how the churches adapted their faith to the scientific currents of thought and step by step altered the fundamental doctrines of the faith beginning with the doctrines of God. The very personal providential God of scripture has been converted by this process into an impersonal and remote deity. Natural law replaced God’s law, and God’s wrath and God’s love. As Turner commented:

“A willful personal God jarred many sensibilities in the eighteenth century.” 2

Men rethought the doctrine of God in terms of Newton’s physics and the divine purpose was replaced by physical causality, and impersonal scientific laws. The churches and theologians accepted Deism without admitting it. With respect to the physical universe and God’s relationship to it the churches almost to the last man became Deists, they retained the personal God only in the realm of the spirit. The result was the rise of ‘heart religion,’ Pietism. God didn’t do anything in the outside world to mess up science, but you could know God personally only in your heart. So, the very personal directly acting God of scripture was reduced only to the inner realm of man, and he was barred from the physical universe. God was removed from history to the subjective realm and became irrelevant to history.

Over the centuries it has been the nature of great preaching to take the word of God and to declare it in terms of the problems of the day. To apply The Word of God as a prescription to all man's problems, personal, societal, political, educational, scientific, and so on. The Word of God as the answer to the problems. But today this is far from true. One of our staff members, Otto Scott, when he was converted not too many years ago immediately went to churches that he felt were thoroughly Bible-believing; what he found was preaching that was totally irrelevant to the world he lived in! He said, it was preaching that could have been preached in the tenth century or the seventeenth century because it had no relationship to the world we live in! But the Word of God must be related to our time. The prophets spoke the Word of God to their time, saying to kings and to commoners; “thou art the man!”

It is false preaching that limits the scope of The Word of God to the inner world alone. The result is that Christianity has become, in the modern age, subcultural. Instead of being the cultural force which molds and governs the culture, it is subcultural. Now what is a sub-cultural fact? Well. Sometime in the past week or two the world Monopoly championship was held, I believe somewhere in the South, perhaps it was in Florida? It was the world championship, but it’s a sub-cultural fact because the game Monopoly, even though it continues to be enormously popular the world over, doesn’t affect the lives of people. It does not change the world. It does not contribute anything to the development of life in any sphere of life.

Now that’s a sub-cultural fact. Christianity is, today, subcultural. It has been for generations, we have people today, and we have some legislators including at least one in this room who are trying to make it again a cultural fact, a cultural force.

But, because it has been by most churches reduced to a subcultural level, has withdrawn from the world; we have one of the most amazing facts in human history--in ALL history! Ninety percent of the people in The United States say they believe in God in some more or less vaguely Christian sense. Ninety percent. Fifty-five percent of all adults identify themselves as born-again Christians. Christianity, Biblical faith, should be the one cultural force in this country governing and directing every sphere of life and thought...and it doesn’t. Precisely because the churches have reduced it to a sub-cultural force. By limiting its God, the church has limited its power, and it has today a minimal impact.

This is the most remarkable fact in all of history that so many hold to a faith which has turned the world upside down when it was only a handful of men, The Apostles, today doesn’t much outrank Monopoly! We have retreated from one area after another. The two areas which best reveal the faith of a people, what are they? Not the church because the church usually tends to lag behind a culture except when it has a strong forceful faith; it’s conservative, it’s traditional, it’s repeating the past and so it’s behind the times too often. The two things which are the quickest index of the life and faith of a people are law and education, law and education. In education a people passes on its faith, its values, its beliefs, to its children. Education is the transmission of religion, what a people believes in. That’s why, in public school education today of the teachers there are textbooks like Humanistic Source Book of Education; How to Apply Humanistic Values in the Classroom. Our public schools are religious schools but they’re teaching Humanism, not Christianity.

Law is inescapably religious because what law deals with is right and wrong, good and evil. What the law says is forbidden is forbidden because the society considers it to be wrong. That’s a moral judgment, and ultimately a religious judgment because morality is a branch of theology. So, every time a law is passed, it is a religious decision, it is a moral fact. And every law system is an establishment of religion, not of a particular church, but of a religion. Laws reflect the faith of the people; Buddhist, Islamic, Shinto, Christian, Humanistic...inescapably so. And our laws today are largely humanistic. As a result, there is no prophetic ministry, or, only a small but now growing one.

“Where there is no vision, (no revelation, no prophetic ministry as some have translated it,) the people perish. But he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

It always amazes me how many things that people who profess to be Bible believing do believe that really borrowed from our enemies. Do you know who it was in this country who first propagated the idea that Moses gave the law for the Jews because they were an earlier and primitive dispensation of religion and not enlightened enough to have anything better? That idea was first propagated in this country by William Ellery Channing, the founder of Unitarianism! It was a Unitarian idea through and through! It was then picked up and made an article of faith by Alexander Campbell, founder of The Disciples or Church of Christ. By about 1869, it became an article of all the churches because in that year the Southern Presbyterians adopted it. But these ideas came out of Unitarianism and its evolutionary belief which held that The Old Testament had to be regarded as primitive. Implicit in Channing’s perspective was that ultimately we may outgrow the New Testament also, and reach a higher level, the level of a ‘love religion,’ as some subsequently declared it. And yet, all of this was adopted by the pietistic evangelical community.

At the same time, the world was divided into two realms; the Material and the Spiritual, and the Material surrendered to the Humanistic state. Well, what the forgot was that the lord they created in the state wants to be a total lord and will not allow the minds of people to be free of its sway, it will not tolerate dissent, and so we have the battle today. A struggle for the minds and bodies of men the world over on the part of the humanistic state.

Samuel Rutherford, in 1644, wrote a book ‘Lex Rex.’ A book that still continues to influence people, it was reprinted by Sprinkle Publications a few years ago in Virginia. It has, off and on, been in print for about three hundred and fifty years. In fact, the foundation established, of which I am a board member, by John Whitehead, The Rutherford Foundation to defend Christians in court, took its name from Samuel Rutherford. Rutherford held that submission to a godless state and its lawless acts when they go against God and His power is morally and religiously wrong, and he wrote:

“We hold that the law saith with us that vassals loss their farm if they pay not what is due. Now, what are kings but vassals to the state? Who, if they turn tyrants, fall from their right.” 3

And he went on to say that the state is vassal to God the Lord, and must obey God.

In the seventeenth century, the hope of some English Puritans was that a godly prince had to impose Christian order on society. Some of The Puritans held to this late medieval view in the need for an earthly sovereign to represent the heavenly sovereign and to establish the realm in God’s order. In 1621 Robert Bolton said in a sermon:

“Take sovereignty from the face of the earth and you’ve turned it into a ‘cock pit.’ Men would become cutthroats and cannibals one unto another. Murders, adultery, incest, rapes, robberies, perjuries, witchcraft, blasphemies, all other kinds of villainy, outrages, and savage cruelty, would overflow all countries. We should have a very hell upon earth, and the face of it covered with blood as it once was with water.” 4

Well, not only were the ungodly princes of his day failures, but so too were the godly ones. Godly and ungodly princes alike were incapable of establishing any true order. Human sovereigns have through the centuries sought to create ideal republics based on man’s law, man’s economics, politics, and education. From Plato’s Republic at least to the present, men have dreamed of ideal orders created by man. They have rather, all of them, created the moral anarchy described by Bolton. Clearly: “except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.”

What this tells us is first; that no Godly or true order can be established without regenerate men. The building must be by God, beginning with men! So that our first great task is one of evangelism. We need God’s men for God’s world, and we can never cease from that task. But it tells us; second, that the business of the state is too important to leave to the state. The business of your state government, of your local government, and of Washington, D.C., is too important to be left to those people. There is no area of life or thought which is outside of God and his government, and all must be brought under the dominion of Christ our king.

It is easy for us, and a temptation, and often right for us to be critical of those in Washington, D.C. But, I can never forget the first time I spoke to a fairly large number of Congressmen at The Capitol Hill Club. About twelve years ago. I spoke to them at their request on Biblical law. When it was over, and I had a very receptive audience, one of them said to me and everyone else nodded: “We’ve tried everything except God’s law, and we know that nothing else works. If only the people out there would begin demanding a different course, but what they’re asking of us is the same old thing.” They need help. They need your help as Christians to stand for God’s order and to ask that they do also.

There is no area of life or thought which is outside of God’s government, and all things must be brought under the dominion of Christ, our King. No Christian can surrender any area of life, including politics, to Christ’s enemies without sin. Christianity is a total religion. It speaks to and governs all things. A total faith requires a total concern and a total commitment and action. The crown rights of Christ the King command us. They command our world, and they command us in our world totally and without restriction or reservation. “Where there is no vision, (no prophetic ministry,) the people cast off restraint (they are naked). They perish...but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Thank you.

1 See Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 485 (1928) (Brandeis, J. dissenting), overruled by Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967).

2 James Turner. Without God, Without Creed: The Origins of Unbelief in America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985, 35.

3 Rev. Samuel Rutherford. Lex Rex, Or the Law and the Prince; A Dispute for the Just Prerogative of King and People. Edinburgh: Robert Ogle and Oliver & Boyd, 1843, 201.

4 Rev. Robert Bolton. “Two Sermons Preached at Northampton at Two Severall Assises There.” In Mr. Boltons Last and Learned Worke of the Foure Last Things, Death, Judgement, Hell, and Heaven with His Assise-Sermons, and Notes on Justice Nicolls His Funerall, The Fourth Edition. London: E.B., 1639, 10.

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