Faith, Freedom, and the Founding Fathers

By Francis A. Schaeffer - Posted at Crossway:

Lex Rex

The Founding Fathers of the United States (in varying degrees) understood very well the relationship between one’s world view and government.

John Witherspoon (1723-1794), a Presbyterian minister and president of what is now Princeton University, was the only pastor to sign the Declaration of Independence. He was a very important man during the founding of the country. He linked the Christian thinking represented by the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) with the work he did both on the Declaration of Independence and on countless very important committees in the founding of the country. This linkage of Christian thinking and the concepts of government were not incidental but fundamental.

John Witherspoon knew and stood consciously in the stream of Samuel Rutherford, a Scotsman who lived from 1600-1661 and who wrote Lex Rex in 1644. Lex rex means law is king—a phrase that was absolutely earthshaking. Prior to that it had been rex lex, the king is law. In Lex Rex he wrote that the law, and no one else, is king. Therefore, the heads of government are under the law, not a law unto themselves.

Jefferson, who was a deist, and others, knew they stood in the stream of John Locke (1632-1704), and while Locke had secularized Lex Rex he had drawn heavily from it. These men really knew what they were doing. We are not reading back into history what was not there. We cannot say too strongly that they really understood the basis of the government which they were founding.