The year 2015 was the year of Magna Carta, celebrating 800 years since the famous charter was sealed. There have been numerous books and at least two exhibitions commemorating the anniversary, some of which are reviewed in this issue. The great struggle of the barons who forced the charter on King John, and of many other rebels down through the centuries, was to make the king accept that he was not above the law, but was under it just as they were. The kings and queens of England and Scotland accepted the rule of law only reluctantly until the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when the ability of Parliament to create a monarch and legitimate a dynasty finally shifted the balance of power.
Today it is not kings and queens but government ministers who try from time to time to act outside the law, and have to be reined in by the members of Parliament.
It is very different with our King. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, came into the world to save sinners. To do this he needed to subject himself to his own law, that he might suffer the penalty due for the sins of his people: ‘Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: but when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father’, (Galatians 4:3–5). Unlike the rulers of this world, here is a King who comes of his own free will to put himself under the law.
Note, first, that this was a deliberate, planned act: ‘when the fulness of the time was come’. From all eternity it was his purpose to come and redeem a people for himself: Bethlehem’s manger and Golgotha’s cross were the outworkings of this amazing plan.
Again, this was a Trinitarian act. The Father sent: ‘God sent forth his Son’. The Son came. The Spirit applies the salvation thus accomplished: ‘that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.’
And again, because this was a Trinitarian act, it was also a voluntary act. The Father did not reluctantly allow his Son to be made under the law, but sent him for that very purpose. At the cross, the Son did not have to wrest salvation from a reluctant Father; rather, Father and Son were united with the Spirit (Hebrews 9:14) in their grand object of accomplishing salvation for sinners.
All this was necessary because we were still ‘in bondage under the elements of the world … under the law’. The law condemns us outright, because, like the kings of old, we have attempted to avoid its force, and live outside the law. God’s law is universal; we cannot, like James II & VII, flee the country whose law we have broken, and make a new life elsewhere. We need to be set free from the law by one who has kept it perfectly.
As the Christmas season approaches, let us remember that not the least of the humiliations faced by Jesus Christ in his earthly life and ministry was this subjection to the law; for without it, there could have been no salvation for sinners. As Christians, we are to be loyal citizens of the nation in which we find ourselves; but let us always remember that our ultimate loyalty is not to the rulers of this world, but to the King of kings, who put himself under his own law in order to set us free.