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The Fulfilment of the Law

By Peter Hollingworth - posted Monday, 15 November 1999

If it is true that all good law comes from "the mind of God", then we should submit ourselves and our work to God, who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.

We make that offering to God, who has already placed in our hands the solemn obligation of ordering and administering the laws of this land and the affairs of nations. The primary purpose is to do so in a spirit of justice and peace.

When we talk about legal and political authority, we should first recall, with St Paul in his Letter to the Romans, Chapter 13 that "There is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God". Each of us has to remember that whatever authority we may exercise, ultimately we are people who stand under authority, seeking to be obedient to it.


There has always been a close relationship between law and theology, whether that theology be Jewish or Christian. In theological discourse, God is a God of both justice and judgement on the one hand and mercy and grace on the other. In my understanding, much of theology is to do with the handling of human paradox and of finding ways of expressing and upholding different but complementary truths. This is well expressed in the great Rabbinic tradition about the story of creation, where God is purported to have said to himself, "If I create the world by mercy alone, sin will abound. If I create the world by justice alone, how may the world endure? Therefore I will create it by both".

There is a need in many respects to reject that modern spirit of antinomianism which says that Christian love is a free gift and is not to be restrained by moral or legal rules. This approach upholds the primacy of love but at the expense of law and morality.

So we are to uphold and affirm a positive view of law. Yet it is not to be seen as an end in itself, but as a means of achieving something greater, or as St Paul correctly said, "Love is the fulfilment of the law". In his Letter to the Romans elsewhere, he says that we must submit ourselves to lawful authority, yet the end purpose in all of this is that we might the better love God and love our neighbours. The serving purpose of the law, then, is to ensure that good is done and evil, as far as possible, avoided.

So judges, magistrates and legal practitioners are to act as the channels of God's grace which has been freely given to his people. That gift and quality is what enables the human condition, with all its limitations, to be transformed over time.

Many still believe today that there is a law in the nature of rational creatures, whereby they daily order their human conduct with respect to God, their neighbour and themselves. We are in trouble when we cease to believe it, or forget the power of its truth. It was Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Practical Reason, written in Germany in the same year as the founding of the colony of New South Wales, who wrote, "Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more seriously reflection concentrates upon them: the starry heaven above me and the moral law within me". We can never afford to lose that sense of awe to which Kant refers.

The lawyer’s task, beyond the routine of legal administration, is to test and examine existing laws and legal procedures against their original purposes, to ensure that they are fair expressions of the will of God and are exercised justly on behalf of all people.


If people today cannot afford legal advice and representation in the Courts, so that their natural rights can be preserved and reasonable justice secured, then those who administer the law have the responsibility to secure the means of providing it in whatever way may be possible. We should therefore give our strongest support to moves within the judiciary itself and throughout the community to revitalise the failing Legal Aid system, which means that these fundamental, democratic rights are being eroded in relation to the more vulnerable members of our society.

Each lawyer bears a weighty task in these and other matters. In such matters we are reminded of the words of the prophet Micah, in Chapter 5. It asks the question, "What does the Lord require of you?" The answer comes back with clarity and force, "To do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God".

If one or all of these three basic virtues or requirements is not present, then the will of God cannot fully be exercised. The law is the instrument, codified by human beings, by which we may act as co-workers and partners together in Christ in the manifestation of the rule of God, which the Bible often calls the Kingdom of Heaven. That rule is to be expressed in every aspect of life, both private and public.

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This is an edited version of a sermon that Archbishop Peter Hollingworth gave at the annual Law Church Service in Brisbane on 12th July, 1999.

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About the Author

Dr Peter Hollingworth was the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane from 1989 and was Governor-General from 2001 to 2003.

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