HOW BAD could society in this country or elsewhere become and still be as good as the law of the land demands?
Let us suppose society in a condition where the only attention paid to the demands of morality was such as the law of the land actually compelled the people to give. Nobody committed murder, yet everybody hated everybody else, and when one died everybody else was glad of it. Nobody stole anything, yet everybody coveted the possessions of his neighbors, and only the most sleepless vigilance made any possession safe. Nobody swore falsely against his neighbor, yet nobody had any regard for the truth. Nobody committed adultery, yet everybody wanted to; nobody doing anything for which the law could take hold of him, yet not a spark of love, not a grain of mercy, not a trace of principle, in any breast. Would such a condition of society be expressive of righteousness? Or of total depravity?
We are led to make these reflections by such words as the following from the Union Signal:—
“Christian citizens everywhere should give real honors to Christ, the king, by seeking to make his laws the laws of society. To that end, let individuals and deputations from churches and Christian societies, especially preachers’ meetings, called on senators and congressmen while they are at home for the holidays, and urge them to aid these reform movements…. Let us be willing, a few of us, to go to the next street, or the next town, to enlist our congressman actively on the side of sound morals.”
To make Christ’s laws the laws of society, go and petition the legislature to put new enactments on the statute books! Are not our observations pertinent to the idea here expressed?
Go and compel—if you can—the legislature of the state or nation to enact new statutes or strengthen old ones, in the interests of “sound morals.” Go as far as you please in getting the legislative bodies to make Christ’s laws the laws of society. Then, when you have all the statutes of this kind that could possibly be enforced, how much of Christ, how much of righteousness, by virtue of such statutes, will society have? Will it have any more, by virtue of those statutes, then it would in the describe condition of total depravity?
If society observes every law of man, it is, from the standpoint of that law, a supremely good; and yet at the same time, as we have seen, it may be totally bad. Think of it, you who believe in the efficacy of civil enactments to make society good—you who believe the civil power can enact and enforce Christ’s laws. Consistency with this idea would force you to pronounce society really good when in reality it was totally bad. Can you not see that the idea involves something radically wrong?
Of course, society could not become totally bad and still refrain from the violation of just civil laws. But this is not because of any power in human enactments. It is only the regard for justice, mercy, and truth—only the principle of love, which the Creator has implanted in the human heart, as a part of Himself, and which no legislative enactments could put into any heart—it is only this power that restrains society and holds it back from the pit of total corruption; and were this restraining power removed, all the statutes in the world would be powerless to prevent a universal carnival of crime and destruction. Society is bad, and it is getting worse, not from any fault of the legislatures, but because there is no power in legislative enactments to keep in men’s hearts the love of right which alone can keep society good.
All talk of legislation to enforce or preserve morality is worse than useless. Legislation cannot concern itself with morality as such, without becoming at once involved in hopeless difficulties. Legislation can enforce respect for rights, and it cannot go too far in this direction; but this is its only province. The invasion of rights necessitates some outward act of injustice, and with such acts, and such only, legislation can effectively deal. Guide legislation by the necessity of preserving rights, and all is clear and consistent; but attempt to make it satisfy the demands of morality, and at once justice is obscured and consistency is left behind.
Why is it that our friends of the W. T. C. U. cannot see the mistake calling for legislation to make Christ’s laws the laws of society? However, we know many of them do see and are protesting against it, and it is only justice to this body of Christian workers to believe that many more will see and protest against an idea so potent with mischief to the cause they have enlisted to serve.