Liberty and Justice

“Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.” —Leviticus 25:10

ONE of the notions Americans have long held dear, and one which was instilled in their hearts and minds from earliest childhood, was that America was a land of liberty and justice for all. Indeed, it was that deeply imbedded longing for liberty and justice that impelled many of our ancestors to leave their homes on the European continent to take up their abode on the strange and often forbidding shores of North America, ultimately to wrest out of the wilderness a great nation.

The citizens of these United States of America are even now celebrating the bicentennial of the birth of that nation. The nation was brought into being with the adoption by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, of the Declaration of Independence, which states in glowing words that “all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Some twenty-three years earlier, this longing for liberty had already been evidenced by the hanging in 1753 of the historic Liberty Bell in what has come to be known as Independence Hall, in Philadelphia. On it were inscribed those beautiful words from Leviticus 25:10: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” Fittingly, the bell was joyously rung at the adoption of the Declaration of Independence to announce the inauguration of that new regime which, hopefully, would bring greater freedom into men’s lives. In 1835, the bell that was rung to proclaim liberty throughout the land to “all the inhabitants thereof” was cracked—and it remains so to this day.

A Weeping “Justice”

In the year 1863 the Civil War between the states was at its height. One of the principal issues that brought on that dreadful conflict concerned the use of slave labor in parts of the South. Obviously, all the inhabitants of the land, a century after its proclamation, were not enjoying liberty. In that same year (1863) there were installed over the door of the Senate wing, East Portico, of the United States Capitol in Washington, two symbolic statues created by Thomas Crawford. One of these figures, historian Michael Kammen recently wrote, “supports a volume bearing the inscription ‘Justice, Law, Order’ and a pair of scales lie by her right hand. … But the face of Justice has in recent years deteriorated, so that her eyes seem both sunken and swollen with tears.”

And just what is happening in America these days to liberty, justice, law, and order? A writer in Newsweek magazine says, “America’s system of criminal justice is too swamped to deliver more than the roughest justice.” A former government official says, “What we have is a non-system in which the police don’t catch criminals, the courts don’t try them, and the prisons don’t reform them.”

The principal cause of the chaos in the courts is the astronomical increase of crime in which drugs, poverty, breakdown of morality, abandonment of discipline, disregard for the law by young and old, high and low, unfulfilled aspirations, fear of the future—all play a part. Thus the courts have become hopelessly overloaded, while the often vile-smelling jails become holding pens for swelling numbers of pitiable wretches, innocent and guilty alike, but all alike tormented.

No Time for Justice

It is reported that New York City alone has a backlog of tens of thousands of cases, and great numbers of prisoners who cannot produce the required bail must languish in miserable confinement for long, indefinite periods of time before their cases come to trial. Conditions in the civil courts are so bad that it can take up to five years to get a judgment in a damage suit. Neither judges, prosecutors, or defense attorneys have time to devote themselves to the proper dispensing of justice.

Serious-minded people, who are disturbed by these conditions, see little promise of relief. British scholar Sir Eric Ashby told a symposium on “The Dilemmas of Modern Man” that “the gyroscope of law which has kept society steady for generations is now wobbling under the influence of the guerrilla, the hijacker, the bomb planter. … The dilemma is that never before has so much self-discipline been needed from the public; and at the same time never before has the capacity to enforce discipline been so weak.”

One journalist recently wrote, “As masses of people gain more voice and bigger aspirations in all parts of the world, nations trying to keep the course of events on an even keel will become more vulnerable to dissidence and disorder. … Today, realization is growing among people in many nations and many walks of life that a major cleanup of values—as well as of physical pollution—will be needed to bring a livable existence to themselves and their children.”

“Medieval Institutions”

And what about our jails, to which the courts of justice consign so many forlorn human beings? Daniel Patrick Moynihan has described our prisons as “the last medieval institution in American life.”

While the prisons do indeed miserably contain human beings, they do not reform them. Instead, they provide their sorry inmates with opportunities to sharpen their abilities to commit further mischief. Often, individuals enter prison as petty shoplifters and emerge with the talents and dispositions of hardened criminals.

The unsanitary conditions and demoralizing practices that generally obtain in these “houses of correction,” “reformatories,” or penitentiaries are disgusting and deplorable. So indescribably bad are conditions in many prisons that underworld figure Mickey Cohen, who himself had served over ten years for income tax evasion, stated that if he had a son about to be sent to prison, he would probably kill him before he would let that happen.

Recognizing these facts, there have been many serious, scientific, and costly attempts to change conditions in our penal system, with the aim both of alleviating the awful conditions existing in the prisons and of attempting to rehabilitate the inmates into acceptable citizens, with but disappointing results.

“Reform Is a Flop”

Such was the headline of a featured article in The National Observer some time back, dealing with the attempted rehabilitation of criminals. “Nothing works,” the article stated. “Judges and jailers, cops and robbers, reformers and reactionaries are increasingly coming to the same dismal conclusion after about a century and a half of prison reform in the United States. No matter what we do to fight crime by trying to reform criminals, nothing works.”

On this point there is general agreement by many who are closest to the problem. William Saxbe, former Attorney General of the United States, and then top law officer of the nation, said rehabilitation of criminals is a “myth.” Norman A. Carlson, head of the Federal prison system, says he doesn’t know how to reform prisoners. Sociologist Robert Martinson, who has analyzed every known rehabilitation experiment, concludes that nothing works.

And as we view the constantly increasing number of crimes being committed, we are forced to agree with the conclusion that “nothing seems to work.” The courts are too jammed to dispense justice properly; the overcrowded jails become schools for enhancing the talent for crime, or they break a man’s spirit; the reformatories do not reform, the schools for correction do not correct.

The only solution that suggests itself to the baffled authorities is to spend more money to construct more jails to deprive more human beings of their liberty in order to try to protect the law-abiding citizenry from the criminal element. And since this doesn’t seem to be working, increasing numbers of fearful citizens are converting their homes into miniature fortresses, while they wonder, “When and where will it all end?”

Truly, the conditions we see developing in the world about us are deplorable; but whereas to the world they are distressing, yet to the Lord’s people they are as a beacon of hope, for they are signs that the end of “this present evil world” and the establishment of Christ’s long-promised kingdom are near.

The Ray of Hope

The Apostle Paul writes in his second letter to Timothy, “In the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” (II Tim. 3:1-4 RSV) How thoroughly and vividly the Apostle Paul describes the evils that would motivate men in the last days of this evil world!

Our Lord had much the same to say about the conditions that would exist in the earth just prior to the establishment of the kingdom. When his disciples asked him, “What shall be the sign of thy coming [parousia, presence], and of the end of the world [aion, age]?” he said, among other things, that at that time “iniquity shall abound.” (Matt. 24:12) The Greek word here translated “iniquity” is anomia, and means violation of law, or lawlessness. It is so translated in the New English Bible, and the Emphatic Diaglott renders it lawlessness, or vice.

Seemingly, these evil conditions will become so terrible that they will reach a climax in a great time of trouble, for in further describing the events that would mark the end of the age, Jesus said, “Then [at that time] shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”—Matt. 24:21

“When Ye See These Things”

Then Jesus connects these events to the coming of the kingdom, for he says, “When ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.” (Matt. 24:33) In order that there should be no doubt as to what it is that is near, Luke’s record of Jesus’ statement reads, “When ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.” (Luke 21:31) This is the kingdom for which all God-loving people have been praying since Jesus’ first advent: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”—Matt. 6:10

And what a truly glorious time that will be for all the world! The first order of business for the rulers of that kingdom will be to call forth the prisoners who are held in the chains of sin and death. It will be the joyous privilege of Christ and his faithful followers “to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.” (Isa. 42:7) This program will include all who have ever gone down into the grave, both of the just and the unjust. (Acts 24:15) The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus Christ “gave himself a ransom for all,” and that God “will have all men to be saved [brought forth from the grave], and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”—I Tim. 2:4-6

The whole purpose of bringing mankind forth from the grave and giving them “the knowledge of the truth” is to restore man to that perfection from which he fell in the person of father Adam; to bring Adam and his progeny into harmony with the righteous laws of Christ’s kingdom and back to fellowship with his loving Creator; and to give him the opportunity of gaining everlasting life on a perfect earth. This is the Heavenly Father’s own, specially planned reformation program on behalf of fallen man. The inspired Apostle Peter speaks of this as “the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets since the world began.”—Acts 3:21

Justice Laid to the Line

In that day justice will be dealt out with a loving hand, for the Chief Judge will be our reigning Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For “[God] hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31) And there will be no miscarriage of justice in that day, no wrongly depriving a man of his liberty; for the Lord says, “Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet.”—Isa. 28:17

Associated with Jesus in judging the world in those times of man’s restitution, in that time of Christ’s kingdom, will be the church. Jesus said to the faithful overcomers of this present age, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Rev. 3:21) And Paul had earlier said, “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?”—I Cor. 6:2

These new rulers of the world will be sympathetic judges. Like many of the world, both our Lord and his followers have suffered. They know firsthand the trials, the temptations, the inequities, and the sorrows that the world has suffered. But while these judges will be loving, patient, and just, yet strict obedience to the laws of the righteous kingdom will be required of the people if they would gain the proffered prize of everlasting life. During those times of restitution the Apostle Peter says “that every soul, which will not hear [obey] that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.”—Acts 3:23

And there will be plenty of time to render just verdicts; there will be no overloaded court dockets and hasty trials; for these times of restitution, this glorious kingdom reign of Christ and the church for the uplifting of the world of mankind, will last for a thousand years. This will be the greatest rehabilitation program for fallen human beings ever to have been devised. And it will succeed, and it will have everlasting results. For it is the one that was planned by God himself and promised through the mouth of his holy prophets since the world began.

At its glorious completion, all mankind will be forever freed from the chains of sin and death. Every man shall return unto his possession—unto all that was lost in father Adam. All will be free to love and worship their wise and gracious Heavenly Father and his loving Son, our Lord, who died on their behalf. They will be free to love their neighbors as themselves.

Then justice and love and righteousness will dwell in every heart, and control every thought and word and deed. Then will true and perfect liberty be proclaimed and enjoyed throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof! For it will be the promised time of jubilee!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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