7. Rights

R.J. Rushdoony • Mar, 18 2024

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  • Series: Aspects of Systematic Theology
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Our Scripture is from the book of the prophet Ezekiel, the twenty-first chapter, verses twenty-five through twenty-seven, and our subject ‘rights.’ This is a subject we considered a good many months ago in brief, and we are going to go into it more fully now. Ezekiel 21:25-27.

“And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him.” 1

The doctrine of human rights is basic to the modern age. We hear continually talk about ‘rights;’ women’s rights, children’s rights, homosexual rights, minority rights, and so on. One of the key concepts in this doctrine of rights, one that is very widely accepted now, is that of property rights. Historically this has three forms; first the belief that property rights means real property, lands and buildings, second; personal property - money, tools, furnishings, equipment, books, machinery, and personal effects, and third; intangible property such as copyrights and patents.

Now however, as Peter Drucker has pointed out, a fourth doctrine of property rights is developing; property rights in a job, a job as property rather than a contractual claim. More and more, union negotiations has as the background of their thinking a belief in the job as property. Drucker observes:

“In Belgium, for instance, the system of redundancy payments may prevent employers from laying off people. But it also keeps them from hiring workers they need, and thus creates more unemployment, than it prevents or assuages. Similarly, lifetime employment may be the greatest barrier to the needed shift in Japan from labor intensive to knowledge intensive industries.” 2

It can be added that in Iran factory owners have been compelled to rehire workers, who in some cases were laid off ten years ago, the idea being that these workers had a right to their job. This, of course, spells bankruptcy for those firms.

This doctrine increasingly has a greater hold on people. It becomes more and more the background of thinking, agitation, and politics. We can say that this trend to regard a job as property has in it strong elements of historical inevitability. Ideas do have consequences, certain presuppositions lead to certain conclusions. If you begin on a certain road and keep going on that road, it is going to take you to wherever that road goes. Humanism holds that ultimacy belongs to man, man is the sovereign; therefore man both has the right, and rights. After all, he who defines the right, has the rights, he has the power and the privilege to the make the determination of all things, and he is the one to whom all are accountable.

This, of course, is the tempter's program, beginning with the Garden of Eden. Man’s original sin is the temptation of Genesis 3:5 “Ye shall be as God, knowing, determining for yourself, what is good and evil,” defining law and rights for yourself.’

Now this is the presupposition of modern man, and so men demand perfection as their right from everyone, they demand it from their friends; they demand it from their church and their pastors, from their doctor, from anyone who serves them; it is their right to have the best. Wherever one turns, there is this demand, as one's right, to have the best of everything, without giving anything.

I recall ten years ago one of our number who has since moved away, who was teaching in some of the ghetto schools, and who told some of us that third and fourth graders in those ghetto schools were assuming that it was their right to have homes like those in San Marino, they're right! Of course a problem results from this doctrine of rights. There are no bounds to property rights; all rights, including state rights. The result is, everybody develops a doctrine of rights for his sphere which excludes everyone else from having any rights, and there is a savage conflict, then, of rights; it is capital versus slavery, the individual versus the state, men versus women, children versus parents. Wherever you turn, each is demanding his rights against the other, and you have a conflict-society.

Now as we look at this situation, we have to say first of all, the whole doctrine of rights is definitely not biblical. The modern view as I pointed out before is state ownership as against private ownership of property, but the Bible says the earth is the Lord’s:

The earth is the LORD’s, and the fulness thereof; 3

Man is not the owner of property, he is a trustee, a steward of it. The whole point of God’s judgment in history is that God as the absolute property owner visits judgment upon all who abuse His property - the earth. The last judgment is the final reckoning by the landowner, the owner of Heaven and earth and all things therein, and which all men are brought up to face a final accounting for everything, including their own lives, because we are God’s possession. Man has no property rights in anything. But humanistic law in the modern age, with deep roots in ancient paganism, presupposes either individual rights, or state rights; and the result is either anarchy or tyranny, depending upon the emphasis.

Now, in Scripture a job is not a property right, it is a calling. It is not a right, it is an obligation - a duty. The creation mandate requires us to develop the potential of the earth, to subdue it, and to exercise dominion over it. It is significant that when men began to take that mandate seriously as did the Puritans, the result was the kind of development we have seen, to a considerable degree in England, and especially in this country. The average American today has the energy-equivalent of one hundred and twenty-five slaves, the energy equivalent of one hundred and twenty-five slaves. In fact, there are some people who have said that the Civil war was not necessary, the development of the steam engine and very soon thereafter the development of electricity made slavery obsolete; that in very short order it would have been erased by the spread of the implications and developments of the Industrial Revolution. After all, a slave who has to be fed and given cradle to grave security, never was very economical, and when a man can have the energy equivalent of numerous slaves, and had them within not too many years after the Civil War, it means a change in human society.

But the sad fact is that we have a great many idiots running loose today who are educators and ministers, clergymen, politicians and citizens, who see this development as some kind of reproach. And we are told we have one hundred and twenty-five energy-equivalent slaves, this means we are a very wasteful people, and therefore somehow we have to strip ourselves of these things. This would be to put indeed the world back into slavery, and to barbarity.

They also talk about the depletion of resources; the whole earth, clear down to the middle is a bundle of resources, and not too many years ago men could not go beyond a hundred foot depth or so into the earth, and now we go thousands of feet, so that with each decade the amount of available resources increases. More available oil, more available everything, because of the growth of resources. We should have, if we grow, the equivalent of three to five hundred energy-equivalent slaves by the end of this century, and yet we have the insanity of talk like: ‘small is beautiful,’ how people should return to primitive ways as a goal, and work against the division of labor. This is a destructive view, and it leads to disaster, not security.

The doctrine of calling militates against all of this. The biblical doctrine of calling claims no rights for man. It speaks of life as a pilgrimage, with no permanency. All false claimants to rights will be overthrown, Ezekiel prophesies; because Jesus Christ is He whose right it is. Do you see what this means for our time? Ours is the age above all others in history when men have developed their doctrine of rights, and God has none. One of the key figures of the beginning of the modern age, who when he was dying was asked to think about God and to ask for His forgiveness, and he shrugged it off with amusement and said:

“The good God will pardon me, for that's His job.” 4

Modern man takes very casually God’s property rights in Himself, and therefore it is now in the beginnings of judgment.

Christ the King alone has right. Any theology which does not set the crown rights of Christ our king against all pretended human rights is neither systematic nor Biblical, and all of us must recognize that where Christ and His work are concerned we have no rights, only a calling; and we are judged by the Lord in terms of: do we fulfill that calling, or do we not?

Let us pray.

* * *

Almighty God our heavenly Father, make us mindful that we come before thee with a calling, with a requirement that we give an account of ourselves, that we be faithful servants. And give us grace, O Lord, to serve thee with our whole heart, mind, and being; to be faithful in all things, knowing that thou art the Lord, and that He whose right it is is our Lord and savior, and we have been called to serve Him with all our heart, mind, and being. Bless us in thy service. In Jesus' name, amen.

* * *

Are there any questions now, first of all on our lesson? Yes?

[Audience Member] I recently heard a Christian anthropologist make a statement that the problem with American society is the failure to understand freedom versus autonomy.

[Rushdoony] Yes, that is a good statement, modern man fails to understand the difference between freedom under God, versus autonomy. His view of freedom is anti-Christian, it means essentially for modern man, freedom from God. That is why he can consider life under a Marxist dictatorship as freedom, compared to life under God.


[Audience Member] Is it right that Iran, for instance, didn’t want to see an industrial revolution?

[Rushdoony] Yes, one of the real problems in Iran was that the people did not want the progress that the Shah was bringing about. They wanted an Islamic Republic, which meant some vague ideal which was totally against everything that meant westernization, industrialization, education, and so on. Now, because of the youth they have not dared shut down the Universities, but the religious leaders are definitely not happy in Iran about the university students, no matter how Islamic their feelings might be, because the more they know of other things, the less the Koran will have a hold over them, so there is a hostility to education.


[Audience Member] Don’t they understand that this will lower their creature-comforts?

[Audience Member] Do they understand that they are lowering their standard of living and their

‘creature comforts,’ are they aware of that, that philosophy?

[Rushdoony] Do they understand that it is a lowering of their creature comforts. Well, of course, you see, ones idea of creature comforts can be very diverse, and the idea of creature comforts from one culture to another can vary very dramatically. So we can’t look at their expectations through our own eyes, and for many people in this century the greatest of creaturely comforts has been to do in anybody who is better than themselves, there has been a tremendous satisfaction in that. So, the idea of creaturely comforts varies greatly from culture to culture and from person to person.

Yes, you had a question?

[Audience Member] Are these high interest rates that we’re seeing day going to help us? Will it bring down inflation?

[Rushdoony] Yes, the rise of the interest rates today, they are close to eighteen percent, is because you have a twenty percent inflation right now. Now, we have that inflation because we have a dishonest monetary system. We have money in credit which involves really counterfeiting. Now once you begin on that course, a day of reckoning begins to approach. Logically, because of the high interest rates the past few months, it should have halted the rate of inflation, or at least caused it to cease rising. But with the high interest rates of recent months, the rate of inflation has gone up even more. The official rate was for last year 13.3, now as of this year it is close to 20%, a little under 20%. Well, this means that the situation is beginning to get out of hand. A couple of years ago there were some who not only predicted that this would happen by 1980, they actually wondered whether it would be ‘doomsday 1980;’ whether the exponential curve might not take over in this year. I think that is a little premature, but nonetheless it is an ominous fact when the high interest rates are not halting inflation.

What it does mean is that in spite of everything people are assuming that, say, a fifteen percent interest rate is low because of what is coming. So why not grab fifteen or sixteen or seventeen, because, before too long, it will be twenty, and twenty five? You see, that is the mentality. Now, sooner or later that leads to a runaway inflation, they may try to halt it, they will certainly try to halt it with wage and price controls, that is why you continually hear talk that we will not have it. What will happen is hard to predict because this is the first time this is a worldwide phenomenon. It is total, this time, there is no hiding place in any country. So, we are in the eye of the storm, virtually. Yes?

[Audience Member] Can you comment on Judges 11:30 following, concerning Jephthah and his vow?

[Rushdoony] There is a difference of interpretation there with regard to the vow, did he actually give her up in human sacrifice, or was she pledged to lifelong virginity? I don’t feel that I am competent to discuss it, it is a very technical kind of discussion of the meaning of the text; I have always believed that it mean that she was sacrificed, however, James Jordan has in the commentaries developing on Judges produced some very telling testimony from the meaning of the Hebrew text and other things to indicate that she was not sacrificed in any literal sense, but pledged to virginity for life. Yes, you had a question?

[Audience Member] I keep hearing the comment that the only way to stop inflation is to stop the government from creating fiat money; how can we do it?

[Rushdoony] The only way we can stop the government from creating fiat or anti-biblical money, money where the state plays God, is by ourselves changing our own expectations, and having a different kind of legislators. There is a growing group in Congress, definitely against the fiat money program. There are good indications that some more such men will be elected this November. The outlook for the presidency is only bad, but we have a growing group of very fine Christian men in Congress.

Well, if there are no further questions, let us bow our heads now for the benediction.

* * *

And now go in peace, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, bless you and keep you, guide and protect you, this day and always.

1 Eze 21:25–27.

2 Peter F. Drucker, "The Job as Property Right," in The Wall Street Journal, Tuesday March 4, 1980, p. 22.

3 Ps 24:1.

4 Heinrich Henie, from; llico, No More Apologies (London, England: Religious Book Club, 1941), 77.

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