The State as the Source of Grace

The State as the Source of Grace

By Rev. R.J. Rushdoony

The Bible compares the coming of Christ, God incarnate, to the sun, declaring Him to be, in Malachi 4:2, “the Sun of righteousness (or, justice) … with healing in his wings.” This analogy appears in varying forms, as in Luke 1:78 and Revelation 2:28. Because the sun is the source of life in the physical universe, God is compared to the sun in that all life, physical and spiritual, is derived from Him and is His fiat creation.

This analogy was an obvious one. In the realm of man and society, those who governed, kings and emperors in particular, those whose powers over men included the power to kill and the power to prosper, were compared to the sun. In the ancient Near East, the kingdom “mirrored the rule of the sun in the heavens,” and the king was called “The Axis and Pole of the World,” “The Sun of Babylon,” “The King of the Universe,” “The King of the four Quadrants of the World.”1 This analogy was not restricted to the Near East but existed worldwide. Thus, in Peru, the Inca was the Child of the Sun.2

This analogy had a thoroughly religious meaning. Even as man’s life in the natural sphere depends on the beneficent aspects of the sun, so in his societal life man was seen as dependent on the beneficence, the grace, of the ruler. Hence it was possible to speak of such rulers as a “divine saviour-king.”3 Because the king or emperor was also the supreme judge of the land, his role as judge made him a living fate.4 A canopy over his throne depicted the astral bodies to indicate that he ruled like the sun in the heavens.5 Christians viewed the pagan sun-kings as new Lucifers.6

In time, however, ostensibly Christian rulers adopted the pagan symbols and theology. The Byzantine emperors had thrones which made their power one with nature, with an artificial tree before the throne filled with singing mechanical birds.7 Louis XIV was known as The Sun King, the title Nancy Mitford gave to her biography of him (1966).

The trappings of the sun-king concept have disappeared, but the substance and meaning remain. The Renaissance, the Enlightenment and its enlightened despots, and the whole world of political thought since Rousseau reveal to us the fact that ancient paganism has undergone a dramatic revival and has, with the benefits of science, been carried to an unprecedented power. Humanistic statism is the reigning religion of the modern age, and its meaning has been well summarized by the sociologist Robert Nisbet:

Rousseau transferred, as it were, grace from the body of the church to the body of the state, the state based upon the social contract and the general will.8

For Woodrow Wilson, the state became for him man’s true church, the state as Wilson conceived it. This thesis he set forth in his book, The State.9 Law, state law, was now to be the instrument of change and social salvation.10 The result has been the totalitarian or the absolute state, which Walter Lipmann in 1929, in A Preface to Morals, described thus:

A state is absolute in the sense which I have in mind when it claims the right to a monopoly of all the forces within the community, to make war, to make peace, to conscript life, to tax, to establish and disestablish property, to define crime, to punish disobedience, to control education, to supervise the family, to regulate personal habits, and to censor opinions.

The modern state claims all of these powers, and in the matter of theory, there is no real difference in the size of the claim between communists, fascists, and democrats.11

Tung Chi-Ping wrote of his experience as a university student in Red China. The students were required to attend political lectures and to do manual labor of various kinds. Priority had to be given to Party demands. Serious students who tried to do academic work in the face of these things were “apt to be branded as not ‘red’ enough. Some students used such ruses as covering a textbook with the dust jacket of the book, The Selected Works of Mao-Tse-tung. If caught, they were punished.”12

These students were seeking to gain knowledge apart from the state’s controls; the learning they sought was not in contradiction to communist Party premises. Their premises were regarded as dangerous because they represented an independent motivation. Like the sun, the Party and its state must alone give life.

Behind the rise of the sovereign state as the source of grace and life, is the decline of the church into a pietism which abandoned the world to the state. At the same time, Cartesian man has progressively abandoned reality. Descartes’s starting point was, “Cogito, ergo sum,” “I think, therefore I am.” The reality of the world and of God found their “demonstrations” by means of the autonomous consciousness and mind of man. In time, with Kant and Kierkegaard, and then Jean-Paul Sartre, the mind replaced the objective world to become its own reality, and its only reality. Men cut loose their ties to God, and also their ties to other men, except in one area. In pleasures, other people were usually needed. Modern-day Cartesian and Kierkegaardian little gods need also an audience to perform before, very much like Castiglione, the Renaissance courtier.

Richard Collier, in The Rainbow People (1984), describes the lives of those who can live this existential life. Without an audience, they find life difficult. Their parties extend into the morning hours. If alone in the middle of the night, they feel impelled to telephone others, because to be alone means to not exist. Anxiety, alienation, and a metaphysical sense of aloneness haunt such people.

Cartesian man’s universe is his own mental construct. One practical result, a product of modern philosophy and science, has been “the adoration of the artificial.” (The artificial, after all, has the “virtue” of being man-made, not God-made.) Oscar Wilde’s dictum was, “The first duty in life is to be as artificial as possible.”13 (This “artificiality” has extended to the world of sexuality, and a desire for the abnormal.) When Oscar Wilde left Oxford for London in 1878, he told David Hunter Blain,

God knows, I won’t be a dried-up Oxford don, anyhow. I’ll be a poet, a writer, a dramatist. Somehow or other I’ll be famous, and if not famous, I’ll be notorious.14

Cartesian man lives with a will to fiction and a readiness to believe that, with a capture of the state apparatus by his kind of radical, liberal, or conservative, grace will flow into every area of life, and heaven on earth will be realized. This was the dream of the Enlightenment men of “Reason,” of the fathers of the revolution-religion, and of most modern men in all ranks and areas.

But grace does not flow from the state, only controls and demands for taxes. Each election, however, represents for many an opportunity to capture the source of grace and to unleash its saving beneficence upon society.

In The Laws, Plato set forth his idea of the “cosmic” city-state, a faith which many since have shared.15 Plato saw it as obvious that “the lawgiver of this place… will never set down laws with a view to anything but the greatest virtue.” His lawgivers, given his state, came from Zeus.16

The medieval respect for Plato and Aristotle reintroduced into Christendom concepts which, with difficulty, were in process of being suppressed. Joseph R. Strayer stated the case most tellingly:

There had long been (in France) a cult devoted to the king-the only European monarch who could claim that he was anointed with oil brought directly from Heaven, heir of Charlemagne, healer of the sick. By 1300 there was a cult of the kingdom of France. France was a holy land, where piety, justice, and scholarship flourished. Like the Israelites of old the French were a chosen people, deserving and enjoying divine favor. To protect France was to serve God. As these ideas spread-and soon after 1400 they were known by a peasant girl living on the extreme eastern frontier of the kingdom-loyalty to the state became more than a necessity or a convenience; it was now a virtue.17

Very true! When a peasant girl, Joan of Arc, saw salvation in terms of a free France, i.e., free of the English, rather than in terms of Christ and His atonement, obviously a major change had occurred. Again, Strayer’s summation of what had occurred by 1700 is very telling: “the state had become a necessity of life.”18 Or, as Nisbet stated it, the state had become the means of grace.

We live now in the approaching collapse of that dream.


1. H. P. L’Orange, Studies on the Iconography of Cosmic Kingship in the Ancient World (New Rochelle, NY: Caratzas Brothers, [1953] 1982), 13.

2. Louis Baudin, A Socialist Empire: The Incas of Peru (Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand, 1961), 42.

3. L’Orange, Studies, 18.

4. Ibid., 35.

5. Ibid., 181ff.; 134ff.; 114ff.

6. Ibid., 114ff., 120.

7. “Antapodosis,” in The Works of Liudprand of Cremona (London, England: George Routledge and Sons, 1930), bk. 6, ch. 5, 207-8.

8. Robert Nisbet, The Present Age: Progress and Anarchy in Modern America (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1988), 55.

9. Ibid., 30-31.

10. Ibid., 66-67.

11. Ibid., 41.

12. Tung Chi-Ping and Humphrey Evans, The Thought Revolution (London, England: Leslie Frewin, 1967), 77.

13. Wolf von Eckhardt, Sander L. Gilman, and J. Edward Chamberlin, Oscar Wilde’s London: A Scrapbook of Vices and Virtues, 1800-1900 (Garden City, NJ: Anchor Press, Doubleday, 1987), 93-94.

14. Ibid., 1.

15. L’Orange, Studies, 9-16.

16. Thomas L. Pangle, trans. and ed., The Laws of Plato (New York, NY: Basic books, 1980), bk. 1, 630c, 9.

17. Joseph R. Strayer, On the Medieval Origins of the Modern State (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, [1970] 1973), 56.

18. Ibid., 111.

(Reprinted from Sovereignty [Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2008], 383-387.)

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony  (1916-2001) was the founder of Chalcedon and a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical Law to society.

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