Jonathan Edwards on Antonin Scalia

On Saturday, after almost thirty years of public service on the high court, Justice Antonin Scalia passed away unexpectedly.  Shortly thereafter, so called writers at Buzzfeed and various other worldly, secular outlets under the domain of the prince of the power of the air started gleefully dancing on his grave.  The response from evangelicals has naturally been quite different.  For example, Al Mohler proclaimed “A Giant has Fallen.”  For the first time ever, I spent my Valentine’s Day more saddened by the death of a political figure than my own singleness.

Antonin Scalia popularized the so called “originalist” view of constitutional interpretation.  Indeed, prior to the twentieth century it had been the only view of constitutional interpretation, as the modern opposing “living document” view believes justices may violently abuse the English language to make the constitution say whatever the court feels is “socially necessary” at the time.  This view proudly defies the normal rules of interpreting legislation, indeed, of interpreting written English in general, demonstrating that it is bent on producing total social destruction unfettered by legal consistency and unhampered by good taste.  If such accusations seem unsubstantiated, one need only point to the judicial putsch innate to the Obergefell ruling or to the constitutional-textual acrobatics underlying the arguments given in the majority opinion on Roe v. Wade, both of which Scalia ardently opposed.

Ultimately, as a champion of constitutional originalism, Justice Scalia was a champion for religious liberty.  By defending the constitution, he defended the first amendment, which protects as the right of all individual citizens, not just the right to believe any religion, nor merely the right to teach and advocate for any religion, but the right to exercise any religion, even and especially when that religion runs counter to the prevailing streams of social and governmental pressures.  While motivated by his personal Catholic faith, Scalia uniquely defended these rights on secular, legal grounds.  His loss on the court probably means the loss of the rights to free exercise of religion, as so called “hate speech” legislation and other attempts to demolish liberty will inevitably be upheld by the court following the disastrous Obergefell decision.  The Christian’s conscience will be impeded upon in violation of the first amendment, and the loss of Scalia is the loss of that right’s greatest human defender.

Regardless of your position on his various other opinions, his consistently pro-life, socially conservative positions were a great boon to the lives of Christians in the community.  More importantly, the same social forces that brought upon us the insidious “living document” view of constitutional interpretation brought religious liberalism and denials of the inerrancy, inspiration, and literal nature of Scripture to Christianity.  The same intellectual dishonesty pervades both philosophies, and should be vigorously opposed, something Scalia did.  Scalia was a legal giant, and a great leader.  Not surprisingly, Jonathan Edwards once preached the funeral sermon for a great political leader in his time.  You can read the full text of “God’s Awful Judgment in the Breaking and Withering of the Strong Rods of the Community” here.  Edwards’ sermon was preached from Ezekiel 19 on the death of the Honorable John Stoddard, chief justice of a court in county Hampshire.  Ezekiel 19 is an inspired lament for the fall of Judah’s leaders.  From verse 12 Edwards has us read, “Her strong rods were broken and withered,” in which case these strong branches (rods) represented her rules (see v. 11).  His doctrine was this:

When God by death removes from a people those in place of public authority and rule that have been as strong rods, it is an awful judgment of God on that people, and worthy of great lamentation.

By this Edwards means exactly what he said, unless you take his sermon to be a so called “living document” upon which you can project whatever meaning suits your current fancy.  When God takes those who ruled well, who distinguished between right and wrong, who upheld morality within a society and permitted God’s laws when possible to be the laws of the land, who were gifted by God greatly for their political tasks, who are both intellectually astute and friendly and civil in their relations, it is an event worth mourning.  To quote Edwards at length:

Almost all the prosperity of a public society and civil community does, under God, depend on their rulers.  They are like the main springs or wheels in a machine, that keep every part in its due motion, and are in the body politic, as the vitals in the body natural, and as the pillars and foundation in a building.  Civil rulers are called “the foundations of the earth.” Psal. lxxxii. and xi. 3.

The prosperity of a people depends more on their rulers than is commonly imagined.  As they have the public society under their care and power, so they have advantage to promote the public interest every way; and if they are such rulers as have been described, they are some of the greatest blessings to the public.  Their influence has a tendency to promote wealth, and cause temporal possessions and blessings to abound; and to promote virtue amongst them, and so to unite them one to another in peace and mutual benevolence, and make them happy in society, each one the instrument of his neighbours’ quietness, comfort, and prosperity; and by these means to advance their reputation and honour in the world; and which is much more, to promote their spiritual and eternal happiness.

By promoting a socially conservative (read: Judeo-Christian) morality and fighting for religious liberty, Scalia promoted both the physical and spiritual welfare of our country.  For that we may thank God, even if such spiritual benefits were not given to Scalia himself.  God appoint rulers, and God removes rulers, both for His purposes at any given time.  When He gives us a bad leader, we should praise God.  When He gives us a good one, we should praise Him all the more.

Edwards had the great privilege of presiding here over the funeral of a believer in his own church, so much of the Application section of the sermon most ironically does not apply to our discussion here.  But we can take away this: lament Scalia’s death, thank God for such a gift to our country.  When he removes other leaders, even far worse leaders, from this earth, do not respond with gleeful rejoicing that those we dislike are dead, but be reminded of God’s sovereignty.  Be reminded of God’s gifts of blessing even in them.  Praise God at all times.  Use this opportunity and the deaths of future leaders to point the world to our thankfulness to our God, to the God that sets up and tears down both kings and empires, and to the blessings He pours out on the whole world through them.

Jonathan Edwards on Antonin Scalia

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