We read in Proverbs that where there is no vision, the revelation of the Law that is, the people perish, they cast off all restraint that is. We understand this to mean that where there is no revelation of the divine Law, where there is no exposition, where there is no preaching of the divine Law, then restraint is cast off. The revelation, the exposition of the Law of God, argues Calvin, puts a brake on sin, because it restrains sinners, it restrains the criminal element in society. And so the Law is to be used, he says, to protect the community against the unjust and the wicked evildoers. It restrains sin by fear of punishment, it restrains those who are untouched by any care for what is just and right. But unless the sinner is made to, by the dire threats of the Law, restraint is cast aside. Oh, Calvin’s not deluded in any sense whatsoever, the restraint is not from any inner affectedness, it is not from any inner love or devotion to God whatsoever. But the Law, he says, it bridles the sinner, it controls him, it keeps his hands from the outward actions of sin, it holds, it keeps the depravity inside. Otherwise, where there is no exposition, where there is no revelation of the Law, where there is no proclamation of the divine Law, all restraint is removed and wickedness abounds, men simply indulge in their wanton depravity. The sinner is not any worse, he is not any more righteous before God, he is just hindered by a sense of fear, the sense of shame. He dares not execute the crime that he has conceived in his mind nor openly vent his raging lust. The sinners don’t have hearts disposed to fear or to obey God Calvin says, the more they are restrained, the more they boil in their rage and lusts. “But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:22-24). “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Proverbs 29:18). But this dread of the Law, you see, it hinders the wicked in their evil course. They neither can bear the Law of God nor its giver. Says Calvin, the sinner would tear God from his throne if he could, he would abolish both God and his Law, but it is this forced, this constrained righteousness, it is necessary for public order says Calvin, for the good of society. This, he says, is God’s provision for society so that it will not be tumultuously confounded.
But Effeminate Government Leads to More Sin
But, is not our society in the United Kingdom a living proof of this very fact, clear evidence of this? Sin abounds. An effeminate, pink government always leads to a proliferation of crime. The state builds prisons, but they cannot build them big or quick enough. The land teems with men-slayers, they multiply by the day. The present author recalls in his childhood days in Glasgow when I read or heard of someone who was about to be hanged for murder, I can well remember the fear it struck in my heart, it made me tremble. But all that good, wholesome fear has gone completely, evaporated from our society, there is no fear at all in the nation. The crime of murder (and many, many others of course) just multiplies. But Calvin’s argument, or rather the Bible’s is, the proclamation, the exposition of the Law, with its attendant dread of divine vengeance, restrains criminality, restrains the sinner. But where it is absent, where there is no exposition, no proclamation of the divine Law then, says Calvin, sin is just unrestrained!
Government is instituted by God. The Law, he says, is like a halter. It checks the raging and the limitless lusts of men. It is even profitable for the elect, for it teaches and restrains them too. It protects the community. Calvin’s conviction is that the civil magistrate, the state, is divinely obliged to enforce both tables of the Law and for them not to do so, is in direct disobedience to the Law of God. The state amongst other things must prevent the open idolatry of Rome and Islam. Cursing, illicit forms of dance and Sabbath-breaking. It has a God-given obligation to promote the sanctity of life as well as marital relationships. The state’s function is to work towards the same holy commonwealth that God intended to establish upon the earth. Government, says Calvin, is not the invention of man but God. It began with creation. You see it in the early parts of Genesis where you have the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with their extended families and of course, they are governed by the patriarch himself. But as the human race multiplies, the form of government is developed and developed into what we see and know and understand as the government, as the state, as it is now. But there is no authority, says Calvin, no authority except from the Lord, including that of the state, its authority too is established by God. That stands whether the power is inherited, i.e. monarchy, or whether it be elected, i.e. democratic, it is God’s agent and its calling, he says, is to seek to know and to apply the will of God.
(©️ James R Hamilton, February 2020)