Thursday, May 7, 2009

5/8- Calvin and the alaw courts

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of taking it before the Lord’s people? …The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead you yourslbes cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. (I Corinthians 6:1,7,8)

Calvin: Lawsuits are permissible if rightly used. There is right use, both for the plaintiff in suing and for the
accused in defending himself, if the defendant presents himself on the appointed day and with such exception, as he can, defends himself without bitterness, but only with this intent, to defend what is his by right, and if on the other hand, the plaintiff, undeservedly oppressed either in his person or in his property, puts himself in the care of the magistrate, makes his complaint, and seeks what is fair and good. But he should be far from all passion to harm or take revenge, far from harshness and hatred, far from burning desire for contention. He should rather be prepared to yield his own and suffer anything than be carried away with enmity toward his
adversary. On the other hand, where hearts are filled with malice, corrupted by envy, inflamed with wrath, breathing revenge, finally so inflamed with desire for contention, that love is somewhat impaired in them, the whole court action of even the most just cause cannot but be impious. For this must be a set principle for all Christians: that a lawsuit, however just, can never be rightly prosecuted by any man, unless he treat his adversary with the same love and good will as if the business under controversy were already amicably settled and composed. Perhaps someone will interpose here that such moderation is so uniformly absent from any lawsuit that it would be a miracle if any such were found. Indeed, I admit that, as the customs of these times go, an example of an upright litigant is rare; but the thing itself, when not corrupted by the addition of anything evil, does not cease to be good and pure. (IV.20.17)

Remember Calvin was one for moderation. He did not mind lawsuits in a culture where the Christian faith had great influence. But lawsuits should not be made out of malice, uncontrolled anger or revenge. At the same time, he rejected those who said that the courts had no jurisdiction over Christians.
Today my daughter graduates from law school. So laws are on my mind. Is it possible for there to be a good lawyer? Some say no. In Calvin’s writings, the civil magistrate should be elevated above the minister. Calvin was almost a lawyer himself, and called himself such. Calvin saw a purpose in courts and lawsuits. But they should not be abused- as they are in our day. I do not doubt Calvin would frown on those lawyers who are begging for business on TV or radio. Such lawyers begging for business can elicit false accusations in order to profit. Lawsuits were a last resort for Paul and for Calvin. Yet, lawsuits are better than out and out rebellion or anarchy. Here Calvin differed his position from the Anabaptists.
So there is a place for the courts to decide controversies, but the courts should be used in moderation. They should not be used to make lawyers terribly rich, or to make those injured terribly rich. But law is a means to restrain us and constrain us from evil. We should not lose our religion over a lawsuit whether we are the plaintiff or the defendant.

Prayer: Lord, rule us with justice, and help us to be a just people. Help us to bear the wrongs with face from others with grace relying on you. Thank you for your example on the cross. Amen.

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