God Demands Impartiality in Judging
The key criterion to look for in determining judicial temperament, and whether a particular person should become a judge, is the Biblical requirement of impartiality–of fairness and evenhandedness in judging, regarding not the personal status of the parties before the court, but rather the actual rightness or wrongness of their cause, of the facts and issues in the case.
Biblical demands for impartiality, fairness, and evenhandedness in judging are numerous, and the following are some examples:
“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, [...] ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. [***] ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. You shall have honest scales, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the LORD your God; who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe all My statutes and all My judgments, and perform them: I am the LORD’” (Leviticus 19:1, 15, 35-37).
“‘Then I commanded your judges at that time, saying, “Hear the cases between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him. You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man’s presence, for the judgment is God’s [.....]’” (Deuteronomy 1:16-17).
“Dishonest scales are an abomination to the LORD,
But a just weight is His delight (Proverbs 11:1).
“Divination is on the lips of the king;
His mouth must not transgress in judgment.
Honest weights and scales are the LORD’s’
All the weights in the bag are His work.
It is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness,
For a throne is established by righteousness.
Righteous lips are the delight of kings,
And they love him who speaks what is right” (Proverbs 16:10-13).
“He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just,
Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD. [***]
A wicked man accepts a bribe behind the back
To pervert the ways of justice. [***]
Also, to punish the righteous is not good,
Nor to strike princes for their uprightness” (Proverbs 17:15, 23, 26).
“Diverse weights and diverse measures,
They are both alike, an abomination to the LORD.
Even a child is known by his deeds,
Whether what he does is pure and right. [***]
Diverse weights are an abomination to the LORD,
And dishonest scales are not good. [***]
A wise king sifts out the wicked,
And brings the threshing wheel over them. [***]
Mercy and truth preserve the king,
And by lovingkindness he upholds his throne” (Proverbs 20:10-11, 23, 26, 28).
“To do righteousness and justice
Is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. [***]
The violence of the wicked will destroy them,
Because they refuse to do justice. [***]
It is a joy for the just to do justice,
But destruction will come to the workers of iniquity. [***]
He who follows righteousness and mercy
Finds life, righteousness, and honor” (Proverbs 21:3, 7, 15, 21).
“These things also belong to the wise:
It is not good to show partiality in judgment.
He who says to the wicked, ‘You are righteous,’
Him the people will curse;
Nations will abhor him.
But those who rebuke the wicked will have delight,
And a good blessing will come upon them” (Proverbs 24:23-25).
“Because of the transgression of a land, many are its princes;
But by a man of understanding and knowledge
Right will be prolonged.
A poor man who oppresses the poor
Is like a driving rain which leaves no food.
Those who forsake the law praise the wicked,
But such as keep the law contend with them.
Evil men do not understand justice,
But those who seek the LORD understand all.
Better is the poor who walks in his integrity
Than one perverse in his ways, though he be rich. [***]
One who turns away his ear from hearing the law,
Even his prayer is an abomination. [***]
When the righteous rejoice, there is great glory;
But when the wicked arise, men hide themselves. [***]
Like a roaring lion and a charging bear
Is a wicked ruler over poor people.
A ruler who lacks understanding is a great oppressor,
But he who hates covetousness will prolong his days. [***]
To show partiality is not good,
Because for a piece of bread a man will transgress”
(Proverbs 28:2-6, 9, 12, 15-16, 21)
“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice;
But when a wicked man rules, the people groan. [***]
The king establishes the land by justice,
But he who receives bribes overthrows it. [***]
The righteous considers the cause of the poor,
But the wicked does not understand such knowledge. [***]
The king who judges the poor with truth,
His throne will be established forever. [***]
Many seek the ruler’s favor,
But justice for man comes from the LORD.
An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous,
And he who is upright in the way is an abomination to the wicked”
(Proverbs 29:2, 4, 7, 14, 26-27).
~ ~ ~
Those words apply to all people, at all places and all times–Christians included. Especially Christians, who are called to live by God’s objective standard of justice. That is why Christians, if they truly seek and strive to follow God’s words, should make the best judges–for as Proverb 28 above stated: “those who seek the LORD understand all.”
The Christian judge indwelled by the Holy Spirit, walking in a close relationship with God and depending on Him constantly, can have the comfort of His presence with her, gently assisting (almost like guiding) her every step of the way to walk in accordance with God’s written Word, if the Christian will but truly pay attention to what God’s words are instructing her to do. The Christian judge should know God’s principles. Trying to know God’s mind, trying to act like Jesus is the judge instead of herself, in the sense that the Christian judge is trying to act like Jesus would act, should be part of the judge’s daily preparation preceding court activity. The Christian judge should try to her utmost, to the utmost of her ability, to do things like Jesus Himself would do them if He was the judge–that is, to act according to God’s moral principles. Though the Christian judge knows she is fallible, and (being a sinful human being) undoubtedly will make mistakes, still her ultimate commitment, above every other consideration, should be to do God’s will, regardless of what any mere human thinks about her. That should be a great comfort to her: to know that she values the favor of God more than human opinion. It should gladden her heart to know that and to see that in herself.
Regardless of which earthly ruler appoints her, the Christian judge’s ultimate Boss is Jesus; that’s the way she should view her job. She is His agent, He appointed her as His agent by the mere fact of her Christianity, and she should act accordingly. Because she is one of His people, she should put on the robe of her Christian agency (metaphorically speaking), and should act under the color of His ultimate authority. She should study God’s Word constantly, in order to reinforce the godly principles she is trying to uphold every day: principles like fair treatment and due process (both procedural and substantive)–not giving someone unequal treatment or a different sentence than another just because of their position or social status or ethnic background, no matter how important they are or think they are–no matter how many interest groups pressure the judge to unduly favor one group or another or to show favoritism to people simply on the basis of what they are or who they are, regardless of the facts of the case and the rightness or wrongness of the cause.
At the very least, there is the comradery of sharing Jesus’ principles, and enjoying doing so. Despite the hardship, there is the friendship–with Him. And that is the moral victory. Through it, God’s kingdom is winning already.
Such a judge should not become too attached to her judgeship–nothing about it. Not the power, not the prominence, not the sumptuous office and the perks that go along with it. None of these are worth sacrificing Jesus’ principles for.
Even though she may have to do all her godly work alone–with no human support–yet she is not alone. All her deeds are written down in the chronicles of Heaven. And she works for the knowledge of God’s approving eyes looking down on her from Heaven above. Frequently, she should ask Him: Write Your laws on my heart so deep they can never be erased. She should constantly ask Him that.
As the Proverbs said, the Christian judge should always feel the need to protect the innocent and to rectify unfairness, by exercising fair judging. May God give me the heart, and the courage, to always feel that, should be her constant prayer. For God’s standard is to not acquit the guilty, and to not convict the innocent. Her anger at unfairness should be a reflection of God’s righteous anger toward the unjust and wicked. At least, that’s the way she should feel: the very same way God feels about things. That is the meaning of God’s moral law.
Of course, the Christian should not be naïve: in an ideal system, the Christian judge should like nothing better than to help Jesus wipe out all the wrong that has ever been done to anyone. But the judge has to deal with the world the way it is–the current world system. So the work of judging is difficult and complex. Yet the judge has to maintain God’s standard, nonetheless–for He expects no less of her.
At least, the judge should know this much: There’s a silent dignity in standing up for what’s right. And those who do so should be honored; those who do so are honored in God’s sight, in the chronicles of Heaven. At least, the Christian judge will have the inner satisfaction of knowing she is right–by God’s standard. And no one, and no thing, can ever take that away.
Standing up for the right, even quietly, even in obscurity, with no one else but God knowing–that is glory. The wicked who dislike the upright (see Proverbs 29:27) may give the judge trouble, but God gives her glory.
Write Your laws on my heart so deep they can never be erased: by the power of the Holy Spirit, constantly applying His written Word. Nothing less, nothing more temporary, can give the Christian judge what she will need in order to make correct decisions. God’s principles have to become instinctive within her. And one has to follow those principles all the way, to the very end.
The Christian judge should daily experience this knowledge: that the best way to become righteous is to become whole, and that since mankind’s heart is sinful, that not through her own strength, but through the goodness of the only perfect One in the universe, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is the hero to emulate, the standard to strive for. And He gives you His strength and makes it your own, through the striving.
The right thoughts are His. Like the eternal, unchangeable moral law of the universe–His. There is a comfort in that. There is inspiration–and comradery. The comradery of sharing His goal with Him, the sheer joy of knowing that two persons are of one mind: His mind.
The Christian judge should also remember: that the tenure of the judge’s office is determined by God’s timetable. No matter how long the judge remains a government official on earth, she should know that she will always, throughout the rest of her earthly life and for eternity, be a member of the only group in world history who ever really mattered: the members of God’s group of people. She will always be a member of that kingdom, and nothing and no one can ever nullify that. For she is a judge, indeed: a judge in the Government of Christ--for Christ is the ultimate earthly Ruler; He is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief.
When the Christian judge asks herself the question: “What matters the most to you? What do you want the most?”, she should consistently give the same answer: to be a member of God’s group of people. A worthy member. And inevitably, that means adhering completely to God’s values, as He revealed them in His Word–to give Him all or nothing, nothing less will do.
Write Your laws on my heart so
deeply they can never be erased. That should be the Christian judge’s
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The Throne Established by Righteousness as the Standard for Civil Rule
The following is an excerpt from John Barnard, The Throne Established by Righteousness. A Sermon Preached Before His Excellency Jonathan Belcher, Esq; [...] (1734) (page 31)
[Editor’s Note: The following excerpt shows that 18th-century Massachusetts colonial Puritans had “a very great regard” for following “the Divine laws, not only moral, but judicial”:]
“Thus the righteousness of the ruler is seen, in the laws being calculated, to encourage all that is virtuous and laudable, and to banish whatever is any ways injurious to the state, or to the person, name, and interest of any particular member of it, that they may be a Terror to Evil doers, and a Praise to them that do Well. Their righteousness is displayed, in so tempering the laws, that they may equally take told on the great and small, and not be traps to one, and open doors to another; that one may not be burdened, and another eased, but that all parts of the body, may proportionably bear the weight, and render it light; and in adjusting all their acts and laws, to the temper and genius, to the condition and circumstances of the people. To which end, a very great regard is to be paid to the Divine laws, not only moral, but judicial, as far as the condition of a people will admit, as the result of the highest wisdom and rectitude.
“And as righteousness must enter into the nature of the laws, so into the sanctions of them also; that they may be duly confirmed, and enforced, and that the penalty be proportioned to the nature of the crime, considered, in itself, and in its circumstances, as they more or less affect the preservation of the peace, and welfare, of human society, and every member of it.”
For further reading, here is the complete sermon:
John Barnard, The Throne Established by Righteousness (1734)
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