Lex Rex

Pastor Max Forsythe

When I was in Junior High School, my friends and I would sometimes get together in the hay mow of a convenient barn. There amidst the baled or loose hay, we would play a rough house game called “King of the Mountain”. The rules were simple, the last boy standing on the designated pile of hay – was the winner. A lot of fun was to be had and a lot of pent up emotional steam was let off in the harmless wrestling for peer respect and understanding. Some people, (too many I would suppose) – choose to believe that every aspect of international relations and even domestic policies are decided by bigger, more elaborate and dangerous versions of the children’s game that I have just outlined. The social scientists of the New Deal even listed such a “force theory” among several which included: “evolutionary, social contract and divine right” theories. And by that newly framed definition of progressive social science, a whole multi-millennial history of comparative government was dismissed as irrelevant for the modern age. If that wasn’t enough, the new social scientists from the thirties took a special glee in equating the basic precepts of Western Civilization as merely relative to every other form and type of rule known from the long history of mankind.

With multiple generations now having been educated in that contemporary perspective, it is difficult to even get a public hearing for any other legitimate, objective and historic understanding of what it means to live in a well ordered society. So many under-educated people are caught up in living emotional “soap opera” lives that anything that is out of touch with their feelings is considered suspect! However, even with all of that said: we sincerely invite you to consider an older, pre-modern understanding of government that was once considered an important foundation for the civil order.

We begin with a descriptive definition of two historic Latin words. The first word, “LEX” is translated simply as “law”. The second word, “REX” is translated as “king”. In combination “REX LEX” means: “The King is Law”. This premise is the favorite of despots and dictators in every time and place of human history, and even in the minds of some legislators, executives and judges in our own fair land. A second combination of the words reads very differently. “LEX REX” proclaims the wonderfully civilized premise that every person under heaven is born to responsibly “live under the law”. “The Law is King” we may more simply translate it! And in that simple ordering of two words, you have a whole history of the world in conflict – a conflict between those who would rule despotically and others who would logically demand that even rulers are subject to the same laws they would impose upon everyone else.

How enlightened, purposeful and proper, you may easily and logically conclude. Such a premeditated premise must be a relatively new development in the history of social organisms? Not quite, the premise actually dates back to the dawn of time. As I remember the lecture when I first heard it thirty-some years ago: Two archeologists were traveling through the French mandated Syria – In Palestine during the twenties of the last century. They became curious about the scattered hills every four to seven miles across the desert landscape. Once they dug into the hills, they gave them a new name: “Tell”, which means they were in reality layers and layers of old villages and towns, one built on the ruins of another. Many of these tells were fourteen and more layers deep. In one such tell, they discovered down near the bottom, the records room of the kings of Mari. The “file cabinets” of the era (actually large clay jars), contained thirty-some thousand clay records. For our purposes, we will concentrate on the large collection of what have come to be called: “Suzerain Treaties”. These were legal documents which outline and detail the contracted government between the “kings” and “villages” of the land.

As Legal papers, these Suzerain treaties all pretty much followed a specific predictable outline. This outline was six fold and included:1) a preamble 2) an historical prologue 3) specific stipulations 4) a provision for safe deposit and public reading 5) divine witnesses and 6) blessings and curses. Curiously, these Oriental despots even allowed some restrictions upon their very own crown rights and promised certain minimal obligations on their own part for the good of the people! We have known about these documents only indirectly, because the ancient Egyptian scholar Moses used that ancient treaty format to deliver the Great Covenant revelation between the God of Israel and the twelve tribes of the Hebrew people.

The basic precepts of that Jewish law, in combination with the best aspects of the ruling assemblies in the Greek City States and the executive administrative principles of Rome – all became the intellectual foundation for principles of government in the emerging countries of Western Europe. In point of fact, it is specifically through the English experiments in these areas – which the American founding fathers chose to balance the powers of Legislature, Executive and Supreme Court to ensure the very best secular system for law and order ever designed in the history of the world.

Today we have that system of law not only derived from the balanced civility of the ancient world, but also a National Covenant (if you will), which if rightly understood – compels our leaders to not only live under the same laws they give to us, but also by specific constitutional limits, they are limited by social contract (If I may use the modern emphasis) to do no more than the law of the land allows. Thus, whenever our elected officials do anything otherwise – they are acting in accord with the worst despots of human history. Therefore, we are obligated as a free people to not only elect officials who understand their limited role (LEX REX), but also to remove from office any and all who believe their prerogatives of power, place them above the law (REX LEX) so believing that they may legislate outside of the constitutional limitations.

As you may or may not realize, a lot of mischief in this regard has already been accomplished in this country in the last seventy years. Providentially, the system of rule by law and a limited government has proved to be incredibly resilient and long lasting. However, we are reaching the limits of that innate strength and the social pressures of the day and the mood of the electorate are moving us beyond the foundational moorings in our time.

Therefore, it is the stated purpose of the Institute for Principled Policy to remind one and all, elected officials and the voting public alike: of the legal foundational premise: Rule by Law (LEX REX)! And while the traditional reasoning for this is soundly biblical in its foundation, the argumentative logic that I have used is based upon the secular historical record of natural law. However, those of us who claim the Name of Christ as our true King, are not surprised when the law of revelation and that of nature resound perfectly in tune. By whichever line of reasoning we come to the conclusion of Rule by Law (LEX REX) – it is right and proper that we work towards the reestablishment of that principle in our culture for our time, as well as for that of our children and grandchildren. Amen!

Forsythe, Max A. Unpublished papers and sermons from a lifetime in secular and sacred service.
Kline, Meredith G. Treaty of the Great King. (Grand Rapids: Wm B Eerdmans, 1962).
Mendenhall, G.E. “Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition,” The Biblical Archaeologist, XVII (1954) 3, pp. 50-76.
Rutherford, Samuel. Lex Rex, or The Law and the Prince. (Harrisonburg: Sprinkle Publications, 1982).

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