IN SEPTEMBER OF 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Passed by large veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, it defined marriage as between one man and one woman. However, fifteen years later, despite the failure of Congress or the Supreme Court to overturn DOMA, the Obama administration instructed the Department of Justice to not enforce DOMA. Why? They disagreed with it. They didn’t like it. 

This action marked a turning point in our Constitutional history. Since that time, Democratic presidents have increasingly ignored legislation they don’t like. This is a problem because refusing to uphold law enacted by Congress is a rejection of the presidential oath to “defend the Constitution of the United States,” and it should greatly concern all Americans. The willingness to obey the Rule of Law is the guarantee of our constitutional rights. Although politicians often accuse each other of rejecting the “Rule of Law,” those on the left are the primary transgressors. 

Most Americans are confused about exactly what The Rule of Law is and from where it came. In this essay we will define the Rule of Law and discuss the remarkable history of its appearance in the modern world. 


Obedience to the Rule of Law in any culture is a significant achievement. That is because only a tiny fraction of the world’s nations have enjoyed this privilege. Most civilizations have opted for the Rule of Dictators, Kings, or Oligarchies. 

The “Rule of Law,” notes Dr. Wayne Grudem, means that “the law rules over the rulers, not the rulers over the law.”[1] In other words, laws, not dictators or kings, rule us. Those who lead—President, Congress, and Judiciary—like the citizens they lead, must obey the Constitution and the laws they enact. In the United States, we have a king. It is the law, not a personality or a ruling elite, and the Rule of Law is only as good as our willingness to obey and enforce it. 

Biblical Origins

Ultimately, however, The Rule of Law is a fruit of the Bible. The seeds of the concept are in God’s instructions to Israel’s future king. 

And when [the king] sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. 

Deuteronomy 17:18-20

This was a far-reaching concept. The same law that governed the people also governed their king. He was not above the law. This was, and still is, a radical political theory. Throughout history, dictators and kings have ruled by making laws that they do not have to keep. But The Rule of Law ends these abuses. The ruler is no longer absolute. He cannot do as he pleases. Like the people he governs, he must do as God pleases. 

Unaware of the Bible, Aristotle also recommended the Rule of Law in the 4th century BC, then the Romans submitted to it for a few centuries, but its real birth came through the 13th century English Magna Carta. It came and went in practice until the 17th-century Puritan revolution.

Samuel Rutherford 

Puritanism was the apex of the 16th century Protestant Reformation. The Puritan scholar, Samuel Rutherford (1600-61), who represented Scotland at the Westminster Assembly, was the point man for this concept. The context was the reign of King James I (1566-1625) (for whom the King James Bible is named). James argued for “the divine right of kings.” The Latin expression for this is “Rex Lex.” Rex (the king) is Lex (the law).” King James even wrote a book, The True Law of Free Monarchies, to defend his position. The king is God’s servant. Therefore, he should be free to do whatever he desires without checks or balances. Unfortunately, his son, King Charles, who reigned from 1625-49, carried his father’s political torch. This brought him into direct conflict with the ever-increasing number of Puritans in Parliament.  

In 1644, Rutherford published Lex, Rex, or the Law and the Prince. The point of Rutherford’s book was that the law is king! The monarch, like everyone else, must obey the law. Lex Rex refuted the position of King James and his son, Charles. 

Samuel Rutherford

Irrevocably committed to their ideas, both Parliament (Lex Rex) and the King (Rex Lex) raised armies. From 1642-49 a vicious and violent civil war rent the British Isles. The issue was the Rule of Law. Would the king, or the law, rule the British people? 

Rutherford and the Puritans won the war, but the price paid to establish this principle in England was great. A greater percent of the English population died in this conflict than in any before or since. Oliver Cromwell, an uneducated country farmer with no military experience, led the armies of Parliament to eventual victory. Cromwell was both a deeply committed Christian and one of history’s great military leaders. Fighting for The Rule of Law, he led his Puritan armies into battle singing Psalm 68:1 “Let God arise. Let his enemies be scattered.” Cromwell was never defeated!

The Puritan stand for The Rule of Law was a decisive turning point in political history. 

John Locke

John Locke (1632-1704), the famous English philosopher, was twelve when Rutherford published Lex Rex. Locke, the son of a Puritan, read Rutherford in his adult years and in 1689 incorporated a secular version of “Lex, Rex” into his influential “Two Treatises of Government.”[2]

During the 18th century, before the American Revolution, the thirteen colonies successfully lived under the Rule of Law. However, when the American Revolution became necessary, Locke’s Two Treatises became foundational to the Framers worldview, influencing Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, and Adams. Building on Magna Carta, Rutherford, the English Civil Wars, and John Locke, these men understood the importance of the Rule of Law—that there could be no lasting freedom without it. They knew that laws or men would rule their infant nation, and laws were better. America was the first major country in history to adopt a written constitution, in other words, to place ourselves under a written rule of law

John Locke

Because the arrogance and ambitions of the mighty war against it, the Rule of Law is a difficult principle to preserve. Our first president, George Washington (1732-99),  understood this. In his farewell address, he warned that “America was a country under the Rule of Law. With the [Rule of] law, it was everything; without the [Rule of] law, it was nothing.”[3] Then he urged both the government and the governed to submit to the law as the only way to preserve our hard-won freedoms. Washington believed that the willingness to submit to laws we don’t like was the only ultimate guarantee of our liberties. Those under the Rule of Law submit to laws they don’t like even as they seek to change them by the means provvided in the Constitution. 


The United States is in a precarious position. We are returning to Rex Lex. Belief in a “living constitution” is an example. Those who hold to this principle believe they have authority to change it according to cultural whims. But our Constitution does not give the court this power. And therefore, those who hold this position trample on the constitution and the Rule of Law. 

President Biden’s refusal to execute laws governing our border with Mexico is another example. The President is acting like a king, deciding which laws he will obey and which he will ignore. We citizens must elect executives committed to upholding border laws, and all other laws, whether liked or not. 

The mob rule that took place after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Portland, and Chicago are other examples of the collapse of the Rule of Law. Local mayors and governors refused to enforce the laws prohibiting these behaviors. The willingness of millions to assert the guilt of Kyle Rittenhouse after unanimous acquittal by a jury of his peers is in the same class.

Throughout history, when men have faced a choice between order or freedom, they have selected order. We can live without freedom, but we can’t live without order. That is why, to restore order, when The Rule of Law collapses, nations always fall back on the Rule of Kings. 


How should God’s people respond? First, get educated on the rule of law. Explain it to your children. Teach it in your schools. Proclaim it, when appropriate, from the pulpit. 

Second, it is our duty to uphold the Rule of Law by obeying it ourselves. 

Third, we need to elect presidents, senators, and representatives committed to The Rule of Law.

Fourth, and most importantly, we must energetically promote evangelism. The Rule of Law starts with a willingness to submit to the law. The more people love and read the Bible, the greater will be their love for the Rule of Law. God changes people one heart at a time. Pray for your unbelieving friends. 

Last, pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on church and nation. This job cannot be accomplished through human strength alone. Ultimately, God alone can preserve and enhance the Rule of Law in the United States.  

[1] Grudem, Wayne. Christian Ethics (p. 458). Crossway. Kindle Edition..” 

[2] David Kopel, Washington Post, July 2, 2016, “Origins of the Declaration of Independence: Samuel Rutherford’s ‘Lex, Rex’

[3] Paul Johnson, A History of The American People,