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History Corner









All Scripture references are to the Authorised King James Version (KJV) unless stated otherwise.


THE Christmas and New Year holidays were the occasions for great and small shows of hospitality, whether a family reunion, an office party, or simply the boss letting his staff leave early on Christmas Eve. The evening would often start with a drink and those who spent the year teetotal would find an unwanted glass of something alcoholic in front of them. Such unplanned celebrations catch the indecisive off-guard, and many ended the night with more drink inside them than they anticipated.


Christmas Excess

Alcohol impairs the judgement, a fact supported by police statistics. Every year there are approximately 3,500 deaths on British roads, of which about one in six are related to alcohol consumption. The figure rises over the Christmas holidays and in spite of the annual nationwide campaign the accidents continue. It is not a matter of ignorance. All drivers in the United Kingdom are required by law to be familiar with the Highway Code, a statutory set of guidelines for users of the public roads – Article 95 reminds the driver of his obligation:


   Do not drink and drive as it will seriously affect your judgement and abilities.

   You MUST NOT drive with a breath alcohol level higher than 35 microgrammes/

   100 millilitres of breath or a blood alcohol level of more than 80 milligrammes/

   100 millilitres of  blood.[fn1]


Even though conscious of this obligation some still choose to drink and drive. A survey by the Home Office revealed that nearly half of motorists had driven after drinking some amount of alcohol, while one in eight admitted to driving though aware they were over the legal limit.[fn2] Regardless of their drinking habits, most drivers in the survey favoured tougher police tactics and stricter laws to deter offenders. These choices offer a curious insight into human nature: that an intelligent understanding of a particular wrong is not sufficient to avoid it. Poor judgement and weak self-control undermine one’s conscience.


Over the Limit

Even a short car journey affords ample opportunity to observe this principle at work. A drive through the rush hour reveals a handful of near-misses: an impatient driver who jumps the red light; the careless driver on the mobile phone attempting to navigate a roundabout one-handed; the furious driver in the fast lane too close to the car in front. Expediency fixes our driving habit and puts the highway code out of mind. We drive more by on-the-fly judgement than by our knowledge of legislation, trusting that we are reasonable, that the Law is reasonable, and that therefore the two are in harmony.


This illusion of sobriety is painfully stripped away when oversight coincides with haste and a sudden, sharp application of the brakes fails to prevent an accident. The shame and guilt that often follow testify to our poor choice to act outside of the law the prevention of injury being the very reason for the law in the first place. The statesman and orator Cicero (106-43 BC) summed it up neatly as Salus populi suprema est lex – the good of the people is the highest law.


What Have the Romans Ever Given Us?

Britain has a long history of law-making, an activity which is by nature conservative, as it looks to the past for precedent. Early British legislators borrowed from the Justinian Code, a work consisting of some 72 books compiled under the authority of the Emperor Justinian c. A.D. 530. The Code is a study of Roman jurisprudence since the time of Hadrian, but is a mere stamp collection in comparison to the vast and wide-ranging work of Britain’s modern legal system, itself an aggregate of acts, statutes and commonly-held rulings with a pedigree traceable back to King Alfred. The tens of thousands of pages that constitute the legislation of the United Kingdom cover all the affairs of life, each of them binding upon the citizens and officers of the nation.[fn3]


This grand edifice of legality is no cause for boasting, the implication being rather the reverse. St. Paul makes the point in his letter to the Romans that sin, or wrongdoing, is the reason a law is given (Romans 3: 20):


   Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.


The broad and elaborate laws of this ancient nation are an admission of the diverse and refined ways her people can go astray. A law manifests the possibility of injury. If mankind were perfect in thought and action the correct course of behaviour under all circumstances there would be no need for pre-emptive rulings to guard against the injury, to judge the culpability of the offender, or to punish wrongdoing.


The Rule of Law

Some believe this rule of law to be God’s ideal for mankind, a society that strives after a perfect definition of goodness, and ostracizes those who disobey. Such was the nation of Israel at Jesus’ first advent. The dramatic method of transmitting the law at Mount Sinai and the blessings Israel was promised if they would follow it, assured them of their divinely-favoured position among the nations.


Subsequent man-made extensions of the Mosaic law were so numerous by Jesus’ day that certain Pharisees considered it a violation of the Sabbath to rub ears of corn together in the hands (Mark 2: 23-28). The complications introduced into legislation by teasing out all the possible interpretations of the laws, render it unwieldy and obscures the lawmaker’s original intention. Jesus countered the dogmatic and narrow argument of the Pharisees by His explanation of the higher principle the welfare of man, to which Sabbath-keeping was a servant.


Love is the Law

Jesus’ words on this occasion are a wonderful illustration of God’s true standard for mankind to write the law upon men’s hearts, not merely in a book. He desires a society in which men and women are capable judges of right and wrong. Strictly speaking, none can be offered eternal life unless they can keep God’s law without a violation. Of course, the practicality of this seems far- fetched in light of present, real-life experience. Nonetheless, although the fallen mind and heart are weak, forgetful, and ignorant, God’s law remains perfect and demands that even the innermost thoughts conform to it.


A failure to discern the divine government over the inner man led some of the Jews to trust in their deeds and outward shows of righteousness as satisfaction of the law. For this oversight Jesus rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees in a tirade against their hypocrisy “Woe unto you . . . for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess” (Matthew 23: 25).


Like the example of the drunk driver, the hypocritical Pharisees presented a contradiction that could not be resolved either by legal or evolutionary logic that although man is capable of appreciating the reasonableness of the law, he cannot by himself stick perfectly to it. Christianity alone has the answer to this riddle; other religions are silent or evasive of it.


Hinduism and Buddhism avoid rigorous ordinances and the judicial tradition that supports them. They teach that man attains perfection through reincarnation, a recycling of the human soul in various forms. How trees, insects or other animals comprehend their past lives is not explained, as only man has the memory and conscience to learn from past mistakes. Reincarnation cannot explain the failure of a man to act righteously even though he possesses the understanding and will to do so.


Muslim Law

The Islamic community insists that Sharia law is God’s will for mankind, and that eternal life comes by obedience to this written code. Christians will recognise a similitude of the Old Testament legal framework in the jurisprudence which Muslim scholars have constructed from the Qur’an and the traditions of the Hadith. In verse 40 of the 42nd Surah Al-Shura, the Qur’an teaches ‛the recompense of evil is evil the like [equal – Ed.] of it’ or, as the KJV puts it, ‛life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ (Deuteronomy 19: 21). Islam also legislates for the capital crimes of murder, adultery and rebellion against God, but although the Qur’an identifies the offence, it is largely the Hadith, or sayings and acts of Muhammad, that decide the penalty.[fn4]


At this point Islam and Christianity diverge. For while the Christian has an advocate for the defence (1 John 2:1), the Muslim stands before divine justice alone. Islamic doctrine teaches that all are born in a state of fitrah having an innate belief in God (Allah) and a natural disposition toward right-doing, which by adulthood will have matured, so that one is accountable to God for any infraction of divine law.


God Rules in the Heart

Is obedience for the Muslim simply a matter of outward observance? No. The Qur’an also requires Muslims to keep their hearts and minds free from sinful thoughts and desires.[fn5] The full weight of divine law rests upon the Muslim, and there is no mitigation for inherited weakness, as there is for the Christian. Verse 38 of 53rd Surah Al-Najm indicates that no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another in Islamic law each man or woman personally bears the consequences for sin.


Salvation for the Muslim is thus by perfect obedience or perfect repentance either way, eternal life comes by one’s works. So the Muslim must establish a personal righteousness in a human condition that has proven to be forgetful, feeble, and easily overcome by temptation. This suggests that the faithful Muslim is nonetheless in constant jeopardy from further transgressions.


In the divine suit against the offending Muslim, the justice of the Qur’an is ready to abrogate the law upon the sinner’s repentance, putting it aside and dismissing the penalty. It is in effect an admission that the law is too hard for man to keep. Thanks be to God, the Christian has a more excellent way.


There is no such waiving of the law for the Christian – God’s justice stands firm, and Sin stands eternally condemned. But the Christian escapes a harsh justice, not because the penalty is set aside, but because it is paid on his behalf. Thus delivered from the legal wrangling, the Christian conscience can rest in God’s arrangement, all sins of weakness and ignorance covered by the merit of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice (Romans 3: 26):


   To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of  him which believeth in Jesus.





Citations to Web pages are correct as of the dates retrieved, but sites may expire or be moved.


[fn1] The Highway Code, though not legally binding in its entirety, contains sections which do issue mandatory instructions for the road user. These obligations are distinguished by the words must and must not in capitalised, bold type. The passage on driving under the influence of alcohol is available to read online here:

 <> (retrieved 25 January 2011).


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[fn2] Research, Development and Statistics Directorate, Drink-driving: prevalence and attitudes in England and Wales 2002 (Home Office, 2004) Findings 258. Available online here:

 <> (retrieved 25 January 2011). (link broken )


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[fn3] Richard Cracknell, Acts & Statutory Instruments: Volume of UK legislation 1950 to 2007 (House of Commons Library, 2008) Standard Note: SN/SG/2911. Available online here:

 <> (retrieved 25 January 2011). (Link Broken)



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[fn4] (To read the Qua’ran online go to

 <> (retrieved 25 January 2011)


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^[fn5] It is not enough for the Muslim to be faithful in deeds alone, the conscience must approve all thoughts as well. Islam considers it a sin to meditate upon wrong in the heart (verse 248 of the 2nd Surah, Al-Baqra).


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Scripture passages not quoted in the article:


Mark 2: 23-28

23 And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. 24 And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? 25 And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? 26 How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? 27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.


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