The Law of the Unenforceable

The Law of the Unenforceable Part 1

This challenging sermon was presented at the recent Autumn Council. W. J. Hackett, newly elected president of the Atlantic Union Conference, has just returned from service in the Far Eastern Division.

W. J. HACKETT, President, Atlantic Union Conference

Whenever I am called upon to speak to a group of workers and leaders my mind recalls the first camp meeting I ever attended. All the meetings were very inter­esting and fascinating to a boy who had little contact with other groups of Adventists. I was cap­tivated by the large tents, the small family tent in which we stayed, the large number of Seventh-day Adventists, the early morn­ing testimony meetings, and the large vege­tarian cafeteria.

My family attended every meeting. But I was perplexed one morning to find that all the speakers and other camp meeting workers were gathered in a tent for what was advertised as the "workers' meeting." As I passed by I noted a white-haired min­ister preaching with gusto and a pointing finger to the whole group of ministers. My curiosity overcame me and I edged up to the side of the wall of the tent near the draped canvas entry to listen to what the preacher might preach about to a group of preachers. I couldn't conceive of a group of perfect men such as these men must be, needing to have a daily sermon. While I was crouched there listening to some sur­prising statements, a friendly voice spoke to me as his hand clasped my arm. It was Elder Meade MacGuire. With a smile he invited me to come inside and listen if I desired. Embarrassed and half frightened, I followed him into the tent and sat in a rear seat.

I shall never forget the preaching of that minister. He preached just as though he were preaching to sinners! When I finally became a minister I better understood the need of having preachers to preach to min­isters and workers. And as I stand before you this morning, I assure you that it is with a deep sense of my own spiritual need. I feel as Peter felt when he wrote his second epistle to the early church. "This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: that ye may be mind­ful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the command­ment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour" (2 Peter 3:1, 2).

Surely we all need to have our minds stirred up, and to be reminded of the wonderful instruction that has come to us as a people and as leaders through the Word of God and the Spirit of Prophecy counsels.

We are living in a day of great scientific achievements. Ours is an age of Sputniks, jet propulsion, and nuclear fission. Govern­ments of the world are spending large sums of money to educate men to study and delve more deeply into the secrets of nature and the development of scientific methods for keeping ahead scientifically. All along the line there is an intensity for the develop­ment of more perfect machines, machines with more automatic gadgets, and for the development of the most perfect and useful products. Since returning from the overseas division I have been amazed at the perfec­tion of recording and reproduction of voice and orchestral renditions. I thought one of our neighbors had the New York Symphony Orchestra in his living room one evening. He called it hi-fl. I wondered just what that was, and he defined it as a new type of reproduction that gives a great degree of accuracy. In other words, a new achieve­ment in accuracy of production.

As I listened and meditated upon this wonderful music, and as I reviewed the high degree of achievement in so many fields of endeavor, I began to turn the searchlight inward. I asked, How well have I reproduced in my life and work the life and character of the Lord Jesus, whose way I have espoused and whose kingdom I have set up within? I was reminded of that statement in The Desire of Ages, page 827, which reads: "Christ is sitting for His por­trait in every disciple." In my reflective mood I could not help asking myself how well that portrait of the life and character of Christ was being reflected in me. I won­dered if the intensity of my soul was pro­ducing the high-fidelity tones that God de­sires to broadcast to the world as He plays upon my heartstrings and the organ of my soul. Have the development of Christian character and the reproduction of the at­tributes of Christ kept pace with develop­ments in the fields of science and industry, communication and travel? Have we as Seventh-day Adventist Christians advanced in the science and the arts of Christian virtues as much as secular science has de­veloped in its field?

Instead of making a greater development year by year, some feel that the church has been prone to regress in its reproduction and development of the Christian attributes. God calls us to return to our "first love." To "repent, and do the first works." And to Laodicea God says: "Anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see."

I am sure that we as leaders of the church are not yet perfect. However, I feel quite confident that we do not need to repent of the common sins of our unregenerate age. I doubt if many are flagrantly transgressing the fourth or the seventh commandment. I feel very certain that most of us have gotten the victory over the saloon, the dance hall, and the desire to steal or defraud our neighbors. My association with our workers leads me to believe that by the grace of God we have progressed beyond the elemen­tary steps of Christian living. Occasionally, one of our workers falls morally, but the large majority of our men have fought the battle and by the grace of God have emerged with pure minds. We thank God for the development we have made in the building of Christian character. But per­haps there are some areas where we have not developed high-fidelity undertones. Often it is in the intangible principles or borderline areas that we find it hard to perfectly reflect the image of our Redeemer.

Human behavior falls into three great categories or areas of activity. The first of these may be defined or described as the area of positive law. In this area the ten-commandment law defines our moral principles. The laws of the land define the antisocial acts which necessitate a penalty. In this restricted area we can generally determine what we should or should not do.

Then at the other extreme there is what may be called the area of free choice. In this prescribed sphere we can make our own decisions and do just as we please. It is in this area that we bluntly tell people, "It is none of your business what I do."

In between these two domains, however, is another area described in an editorial in the New York Times as the area of the law of the unenforceable. It might be thought of as the most important area of the three. Here no specific determination is made as to what the individual may or may not do. Yet he is not entirely free. In some instances the restraint is so great that it has the effect of positive definition. It is a self-imposed law of restriction.

To illustrate: Not long ago a large ship was caught in a typhoon in Japanese waters. There were hundreds on board as the waves swept over it. A self-imposed law made the men give way to the rescue of the women and children first. Many of the men went to a watery grave rather than break that code of ethics. The same was true of the ill-fated Titanic, so well-known in the annals of tragedies of the sea. This self-imposed law of good manners often takes the force of positive law. There is at once obedience to a code which no one can enforce.

Lord Moulton tells a story of his youth which helped him to realize the impor­tance of this law of restriction. His father had painstakingly nurtured a small, fragile quince tree in the front yard. As the tree grew it finally began to develop fruit. The boy had often smacked his lips while enjoy­ing the wonderful quince jelly that fre­quently appeared on the dinner table at his house. But this year there was only one large quince. Father had made a law which was positively and emphatically given. The law stated: "Thou shalt not pick the quince until I give the order."

It was a tremendous temptation to this young aristocrat, for day by day as the quince grew, its weight sprung the branch downward until it was just mouth high. Remembering the flavor of the wonderful quince jam, he longed to taste the quince that captivated the interest of the whole family. Day by day as he passed in and out of the front door, the urges of the lad's stomach became stronger and stronger. Finally, he conceived an idea which would give him the desire of his heart and yet fulfill the letter of father's law. He decided that since the law said Thou shalt not pick, he would only take a bite from this luscious, shiny fruit. So, yielding to the sudden impulse, he pulled the quince over to his mouth and stretched his jaws as widely as a hungry boy could, with the end result that nearly half of the flesh of a juicy quince gave way under the strain of his mandibles.

His hunger was immediately satisfied; but then he began to wonder what would hap­pen when father made his daily inspection of the prize fruit. He reasoned that father could not punish him, for he had obeyed the letter of the law. When father came home that evening he noted immediately the tragedy of the fine quince. Lord Moul­ton was summoned at once. "Yes, Father," he said, "I took a bite out of the quince; but I obeyed the law which said Thou shalt not pick."

He said, "When my father advanced toward me with hand upraised, I concluded that the argument for the defense had failed. But instead of striking me, he patted my back and complimented me on my shrewdness, then quickly added that he was going to hang the quince in the parlor so that all the family and our friends might hear about his brilliant son."

For two solid weeks everyone who came into the living room was told the story of the brilliant son who had only bitten into the quince to comply with the letter of the law. The consequence was that it seemed to the boy that the whole population of the city happened into the home that week. "I was always present," he says, "when the story was told."

He quickly and emphatically learned that there is a law in existence which is above and beyond the letter of the law—a law in the realm of the unenforceable, which has the same effect as positive law.

This law operates first among the na­tions. But, alas, today nations seem to have lost their code of ethics and integrity. The unenforceable law of national and interna­tional friendships has diminished in this day of pressures and power politics.

It also operates in the community. I can well remember one Christmas Eve when our little home caught on fire and almost our entire store of provisions was destroyed. But the community rallied to the law of the unenforceable and brought in food by the basketful to supplement our meager supply.

This law also operates in labor-manage­ment relationships. Warm human relation­ships do not result wholly from contracts or from increased pay schedules or from extra work benefits of one kind or another. Even bonuses do not develop these extra under­standings. They do not stem from fixed laws that can define and prescribe decency and good manners in exact detail. But these proper understandings and warm relation­ships and feelings of fellowship arise and stem from a complete concept of integrity and personal responsibility—obedience to a law that is unenforceable.

We find that this law also operates in the church. One member does not take another brother to court. In 1 Corinthians 6:1 we read the following words: "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?" Yet, in this day and time some have transgressed this law of the unenforceable. Too often we find brother pitted against brother in the courts of the land. This prin­ciple falls into the domain of the law of ethics between church members—or the area of the law of the unenforceable. As church members we must not break this unenforceable law, which forbids one from taking advantage of his brother. We do not expose his errors or faults to the world; neither do we criticize him nor take advant­age of his kindness. This area also involves loyalty to leadership, and respect and char­ity for teachers as well as fellow students.

I live in a small Adventist community where all one has to do is to tell the bank he is a Seventh-day Adventist worker and he can borrow almost any amount of money with little security. Some weeks ago one of our workers met a difficulty in his family life, and the family separated. The husband and father left the area to find other em­ployment. We soon learned that he had a loan at the bank for several thousands of dollars, with only an old car as security. The law did not make the conference responsible for that debt. But the law of the unenforce­able said, "He is an Adventist worker. It is because of this fact that the bank was will­ing to let him have so much with so little security." I admired the conference presi­dent when he said, "Brethren, we will have to stand good for that loan at the bank." It is obedience to that law which has given us the name of being good financial risks in that community.

So often when we see the faults of people we say, "Someone ought to make a law against that." "We ought to have a policy to cover that." But in fact, the principles in this area of the law of the unenforceable cannot be covered by positive law, for there is no method of enforcement; they are beyond and out of reach of law or policy. Nevertheless they are real, fundamental, binding laws upon the man who loves the Lord and has a conscience.

The law of the church or the state cannot restrain a man from gossiping or from plant­ing evil seeds in the hearts of others against a foe. One cannot enforce the law against jealousy or envy. There are certain areas of honesty which can be covered by positive law, but there are many other areas in­volving integrity in money matters that law cannot govern. Executives cannot legislate on how many Bible studies a worker should give in a month, or how many hours a minister is expected to put in for the Lord before he has done his full duty. This un­definable area needs men and women who are true to the law of the unenforceable. It is here that we need high fidelity at the output end. Christ promises that when He comes into the life He will produce the desired character and the product, if we will only allow Him to do so.

I have been impressed by these statements from the messenger of the Lord:

Men in responsible positions should improve con­tinually. They must not anchor upon an old experi­ence and feel that it is not necessary to become sci­entific workers. Man, although the most helpless of God's creatures when he comes into the world, and the most perverse in his nature, is nevertheless ca­pable of constant advancement. He may be en­lightened by science, ennobled by virtue, and may progress in mental and moral dignity, until he reaches a perfection of intelligence and a purity of character but little lower than the perfection and purity of angels. With the light of truth shining upon the minds of men, and the love of God shed abroad in their hearts, we cannot conceive what they may become nor what great work they may do. —Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 93.

In self-love, self-exaltation, and pride there is great weakness; but in humility there is great strength. Our true dignity is not maintained when we think most of ourselves, but when God is in all our thoughts and our hearts are all aglow with love to our Redeemer and love to our fellow men. Simplicity of character and lowliness of heart will give happiness, while self-conceit will bring discon­tent, repining, and continual disappointment. It is learning to think less of ourselves and more of mak­ing others happy that will bring to us divine strength.—/bid., vol. 3, p. 476.


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W. J. HACKETT, President, Atlantic Union Conference

March 1959

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