Blackstone's Commentaries on Laws of England & Charles Finney's Revivals

Bill Federer

America's laws are largely derived from English Common Law.

Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, published 1765-1769 by Oxford's Clarendon Press, articulated English Common Law in a way that powerfully influenced America's founders.

Blackstone's work is considered the definitive pre-Revolutionary source of common law by United States courts.

Blackstone wrote:

"The principal aim of society is to protect individuals in the enjoyment of those absolute rights, which were vested in them by the immutable laws of nature."

Blackstone drew upon previous documents highlighting Creator-given rights, which then crystallized in America's Declaration of Independence.

Historian Dr. Marshall Foster of the World History Institute wrote:

"The Declaration stands at the apex of the biblical freedom documents of history. These include:

  • The Torah of Moses (about 1400 BC);

  • Magna Carta (1215);

  • The Declaration of Arbroath in Scotland (1320);

  • The Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants (1572);

  • Lex Rex (1644);

  • The Sanquhar Declaration in Scotland (1680); and

  • The English Bill of Rights (1689) ..."

Dr. Foster continued, quoting Francis A. Shaeffer:

"There are limits to monarchies, since everyone, from kings to the common man, are subject to the rule of law—God’s law. When a king or magistrate violates God’s law, he loses his authority, and people may then have the right to overthrow this ruler.”

Highlighting biblical law's role of protecting an individual's rights, Blackstone wrote:

"It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer."

Blackstone wrote:

"Of great importance to the public is the preservation of this personal liberty;

for if once it were left in the power of any the highest magistrate to imprison arbitrarily whomever he or his officers thought proper ... there would soon be an end of all other rights and immunities."

Commenting on the right of self-defense, Blackstone wrote in Commentaries on the Laws of England (Book III; 1768).

"The defense of one's self, or the ... defense of ... husband and wife, parent and child, master and servant ... if the party ... be forcibly attacked in his person or property, it is lawful for him to repel force by force;

and the breach of the peace, which happens, is chargeable upon him only who began the affray."

Blackstone wrote:

"There is nothing which so generally ... engages the affections of mankind, as ... that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual."

Blackstone wrote:

"To bereave a man of life, or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole kingdom;

but confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government."

Blackstone explained that the God of the Bible is a God of laws.

In Commentaries on the Laws of England, he wrote:

"When the Supreme Being formed the universe, and created matter out of nothing, He impressed certain principles upon that matter, from which it can never depart, and without which it would cease to be.

When He put the matter into motion, He established certain laws of motion, to which all movable bodies must conform.

And, to descend from the greatest operations to the smallest ... from mere inactive matter to vegetable and animal life ...

The whole progress of plants, from the seed to the root, and from thence to the seed again; the method of animal nutrition, digestion, secretion and all the branches of vital economy; - are not left to chance, or the will of the creature itself, but are performed in a wondrous involuntary manner, and guided by unerring rules laid down by the great Creator ..."

Blackstone continued:

"Man, the noblest of all sublunary (earthly) beings, a creature endowed with both reason and free will, is commanded to make use of those faculties in the general regulation of his behavior.

Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his Creator, for he is entirely a dependent being ...

As man depends absolutely upon his Maker for everything, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his Maker's will...

The Creator ... has laid down only such laws as were founded in those relations of justice ...

These are the eternal, immutable laws of good and evil, to which the Creator Himself in all his dispensations conforms; and which He has enabled human reason to discover, so far as they are necessary for the conduct of human actions.

Such, among others, are these principles: that we should live honestly, should hurt nobody, and should render to everyone his due; to which three general precepts Justinian has reduced the whole doctrine of law."

Blackstone continued, commenting on man's pursuit of happiness:

"The Creator is a Being, not only of infinite power, and wisdom, but also of infinite goodness,

He has so intimately connected, so inseparably interwoven the laws of eternal justice with the happiness of each individual, that the latter cannot be attained but by observing the former ... (a) mutual connection of justice and human felicity."

He explained the need for God to send the Holy Scriptures:

"This law of nature ... dictated by God Himself ... is binding over all the globe in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this ...

And if our reason were always, as in our first ancestor (Adam) before his transgression, clear and perfect, unruffled by passions, unclouded by prejudice, unimpaired by disease or intemperance, the task would be pleasant and easy ...

But every man now finds the contrary in his own experience; that his reason is corrupt, and his understanding full of ignorance and error ...

This has given manifold occasion for the benign interposition of Divine Providence; which, in ... the blindness of human reason, hath been pleased ... to discover and enforce its laws by an immediate and direct revelation.

The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed or divine law, and they are to be found only in the Holy Scriptures."

In his Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book 4, Blackstone defined:

"Crimes against God";

"Crimes against Man"; and

"Crimes against Nature."

He wrote:

"This will of his Maker is called the law of nature. For as God, when He created matter ... established certain rules for the perpetual direction of that motion;

so, when He created man, and endued him with free will to conduct himself in all parts of life, He laid down certain immutable laws of human nature, whereby that free will is in some degree regulated and restrained."

Blackstone defined the act of sodomy as a "Crime against Nature":

"It is an offence of so dark a nature ... a disgrace to human nature ... a crime not fit to be named; 'peccatum illud horribile, inter christianos non nomtnandum' (that horrible crime not to be named among Christians.)"

Blackstone wrote that Parliament, during the reign of Edward III, heard the an accusation "that a Lombard did commit the sin 'that was not to be named.'"

He continued in Latin:

"... Where that crime is found, which it is unfit even to know, we command the law to arise armed with an avenging sword, that the infamous men who are, or shall in future be guilty of it, may undergo the most severe punishments."

To support that sodomy was a "crime against nature" deserving capital punishment, Blackstone cited Leviticus 20:13-15, and wrote:

"The voice of nature and of reason, and the express law of God, determine to be capital," making reference to the "signal instance, long before the Jewish dispensation" of "the destruction of two cities (Sodom and Gomorrah) by fire from Heaven; so that this is an universal, not merely a provincial, precept."

Blackstone also explained how Islam resulted in political despotism, as shown by:

"... terrible ravages committed by the Saracens in the east, to propagate the religion of Mahomet."

William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England were studied by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, as well as Abraham Lincoln.

While running a General Store in New Salem, Illinois, in 1831, Abraham Lincoln narrated:

"One day a man who was migrating to the West drove up in front of my store with a wagon which contained his family and household plunder.

He asked me if I would buy an old barrel for which he had no room in his wagon, and which he said contained nothing of special value.

I did not want it, but to oblige him I bought it, and paid him, I think, half a dollar for it. Without further examination I put it away in the store and forgot all about it ...

Some time after, in overhauling things, I came upon the barrel, and emptying it upon the floor to see what it contained, I found at the bottom of the rubbish a complete edition of Blackstone's 'Commentaries.'

I began to read those famous works, and I had plenty of time; for during the long summer days, when the farmers were busy with their crops, my customers were few and far between ...

The more I read, the more intensely interested I became. Never in my whole life was my mind so thoroughly absorbed. I read until I devoured them."

In the early 1800s, all one had to do to become a lawyer was to study founding documents and law books, such as Blacsktone's Commentaries, apprentice with an attorney, and sit before a bar exam.

In 1817, Harvard's Law School was founded, being the nation's oldest continuously operating law school, though it only had one professor till 1827, when Justice Joseph Story expanded it.

In 1859, Charles Darwin popularized the theory of evolution with his book The Origin of Species.

In the 1870s, Harvard Law School Dean Christopher Columbus Langdell applied evolution to the legal process with his "case precedent" method of practicing law, gradually changing the original interpretation of the law, one case at a time.

Harvard was the only law school in the country that taught law this way. Every other law school taught law by reading Blackstone and other founding documents.

The evolutionary view of law impacted the nation when in 1902, Harvard graduate Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was put on the Supreme Court.

As described by his biographer in The Justice from Beacon Hill: The Life and Times of Oliver Wendell Holmes (1991), Holmes' theory of "legal realism":

"... shook the little world of lawyers and judges who had been raised on Blackstone's theory that the law, given by God Himself, was immutable and eternal and judges had only to discover its contents.

It took some years for them to come around to the view that the law was flexible, responsive to changing social and economic climates ...

Holmes had ... broken new intellectual trails ... demonstrating that the corpus of the law was neither ukase (an edict) from God nor derived from Nature, but ... was a constantly evolving thing, a response to the continually developing social and economic environment."

Holmes' infamous line, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough" (Buck v. Bell, 1927) was based on the evolutionary theory that "defectives" should be eliminated from the human gene pool, therefore individuals could be forcibly sterilized against their will if someone in the government deemed them "feeble-minded."

Two distinct categories developed among Supreme Court Justices:

  • the first generally held to the views of the founders, respecting commentaries such as Blackstone; and

  • the second care little for the views of the founders, opting to "evolve" the law in order to advance a political agenda.

Blackstone's Commentaries also influenced a young attorney, 29-year-old Charles Finney.

Finney saw so many references to Bible verses in Blackstone's Law Commentaries that he bought a Bible and began reading it.

On October 10, 1821, Charles Finney decided to head into the woods near his home and pray to the God of the Bible, saying:

"I will give my heart to God, or I never will come down from there."

After several hours, he returned to his office, dramatically touched.

He later wrote:

"The Holy Spirit ... seemed to go through me, body and soul ... Indeed it seemed to come in waves of liquid love, for I could not express it in any other way."

The next morning, at his law office, a church deacon suing a fellow-church member asked Finney about his case.

Finney replied:

"I have a retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead his cause, and cannot plead yours."

Finney began presenting the Gospel with a convincing lawyer's argument.

He would also pray using common, colloquial language rather than the formal, traditional King's English.

Charles Finney began the tradition of an "altar call" in his 1830 revival in Rochester, New York:

"I had found, that with the higher classes especially, the greatest obstacle to be overcome was their fear of being known as anxious inquirers. They were too proud ...

Something was needed, to make the impression on them that they were expected at once to give up their hearts;

something that would call them to act, and act as publicly before the world, as they had in their sins;

something that would commit them publicly to the service of Christ ...

I had called them simply to stand up in the public congregations ... to bring them out from among the mass of the ungodly, to a public renunciation of their sinful ways, and a public committal of themselves to God."

Finney's revival preaching paved the way for evangelists:

  • Dwight L. Moody,

  • Billy Sunday,

  • Billy Graham,

  • Jack Coe,

  • A.A. Allen,

  • Aimee Semple McPherson,

  • TL Osborn, and

  • Oral Roberts.

Charles Finney's 1835 Revival Lectures inspired George Williams to found the YMCA-Young Men's Christian Association in 1844.

Finney's sermons inspired William and Catherine Booth to found what would be called The Salvation Army in 1865.

Charles Finney formed the Benevolent Empire, a network of volunteer organizations to aid poor and aged with healthcare and social needs, which in 1834 had a budget rivaling the Federal Government.

Back then, there was no government run welfare programs. It was churches, ministries, and volunteer organizations that took care of the sick and poor.

In the Scriptures, commands are given to 5 main groups:

  • individuals

  • families

  • employer-employees

  • church

  • government.

There are commands for individuals and the church to care of the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the orphans, the widows, etc.

There are no commands for the government to do any of that. Government is simply commanded to protect the innocent and punish the guilty.

Finney organized the Broadway Tabernacle in New York in 1831.

During Finney's term as president of Oberlin College, 1851-1866, the school served as a station on the Underground Railroad, smuggling slaves to freedom.

Under Finney's leadership, Oberlin College granted the first college degree in the United States to a black woman, Mary Jane Patterson.

Charles Finney died August 16, 1875.

Concerning the Kingdom of God, he wrote:

"Every member must work or quit. No honorary members."

Finney's preaching occurred during the Second Great Awakening Revival.

This revival motivated Christians to show the love of Christ to the world through actions, such as founding:

  • hospitals,

  • orphanages,

  • schools,

  • homes for the aged,

  • missionary societies,

  • caring for the poor, and

  • forming abolitionist societies to end slavery.

Some took the next step and began preaching a "social gospel" which only emphasized works and progressive change but neglected to evangelize.

This movement, at length, became divorced from the motivation to bring people to a saving faith in Jesus.

This offshoot morphed into "liberation theology" and "social justice" groups.

Some of these social justice groups use tactics of agitation, division, community organizing, and violence to achieve their goals.

They break biblical commandments not to covet or steal, and sow discord in a way which Jesus would have condemned.

Insisting Christians stay focused on the Gospel's main purpose of reconciling men and women to God through the cross of Jesus, Charles Finney wrote in his article, "The Decay of Conscience" (The Independenct of New York, Dec. 4, 1873):

"Christ crucified for the sins of the world is the Christ that the people need.

Let us rid ourselves ... of neglecting to preach the law of God until the consciences of men are asleep.

Such a collapse of conscience in this land could never have existed if the Puritan element in our preaching had not in great measure fallen out."

What Finney was saying was, if God's law is not preached, people will not know that they have broken it, and will not see their need for a Savior to save them from the judgement that comes upon those breaking God's law.

Jesus did not erase God's law, instead He paid the penalty for us breaking it.

The more we are aware of how we have sinned, the more we appreciate Jesus, the Lamb of God, for taking the punishment for all our sins upon Himself.

Isaiah 53 "the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all ... My righteous Servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities ... He bore the sin of many."

In other words, the Law shows us our need for the Lamb.

Charles Finney warned:

"If immorality prevails in the land, the fault is ours in a great degree.

If there is a decay of conscience, the pulpit is responsible for it.

If the public press lacks moral discrimination, the pulpit is responsible for it.

If the church is degenerate and worldly, the pulpit is responsible for it.

If the world loses its interest in religion, the pulpit is responsible for it.

If Satan rules in our halls of legislation, the pulpit is responsible for it.

If our politics become so corrupt that the very foundations of our government are ready to fall away, the pulpit is responsible for it.

Let us not ignore this fact, my dear brethren; but let us lay it to heart, and be thoroughly awake to our responsibility in respect to the morals of this nation."

Finney's insistence on leaders having virtue and backbone was an effort to counteract weak-willed politicians who were easily compromised by intimidation and manipulation.

The two main ways to manipulate politicians are:

  1. Use monetary and sex bribery to put them into a compromised situation;

  1. Once they have fallen for the temptations, they can be controlled by threats of public exposure, blackmail, political and financial ruin, physical harm, and even death to them and their loved ones.

Nobel Prize-winning economist James M. Buchanan uncovered that politicians and deep-state government bureaucrats act in their own self-interest when making policy decisions.

James Buchanan's economic insight, summarized by Matt Schudel of (Jan. 10, 2013), was that politicians have a tendency to vote for programs which benefit their elections:

"Since the policy makers' goal was to be reelected or to maintain power, they did not always act in the best interest of the public, or at least of public finances.

Lawmakers routinely voted for programs popular with their constituents, but they were reluctant to ask for corresponding tax increases.

'There's a natural proclivity for them to create deficits unless they are constrained by some moral rule or some constitutional rule,' James Buchanan told the Washington Post in 1986."

Charles Finney gave the antidote to the selfish motivations of corrupt politicians in Lecture XV "Hindrances to Revival" (Revival Lectures, 1855):

"The church must take right ground in regard to politics.

Do not suppose, now, that I am going to preach a political sermon, or that I wish to have you join and get up a Christian party in politics.

No, I do not believe in that. But the time has come that Christians must vote for honest men, and take consistent ground in politics, or the Lord will curse them ..."

Finney continued:

"They must be honest men themselves, and instead of voting for a man because he belongs to their party, Bank or Anti-Bank, Jackson, or Anti-Jackson, they must find out whether he is honest and upright, and fit to be trusted.

They must let the world see that the church will uphold no man in office, who is known to be a knave, or an adulterer, or a Sabbath-breaker, or a gambler ...

Every man can know for whom he gives his vote. And if he will give his vote only for honest men, the country will be obliged to have upright rulers ..."

Finney stated further:

"The church must act right or the country will be ruined.

God cannot sustain this free and blessed country, which we love and pray for, unless the church will take right ground.

Politics are a part of religion in such a country as this, and Christians must do their duty to the country as a part of their duty to God.

It seems sometimes as if the foundations of the nation were becoming rotten, and Christians seem to act as if they thought God did not see what they do in politics.

But I tell you, He does see it, and He will bless or curse this nation, according to the course they take."

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Very interesting read, Bill; was not aware of the influence Blackstone's Commentaries had on our American Laws, etc.