This year marks the 800th anniversary year of the signing of the ‘Magna Carta.’
It was the barons who rebelled in May 1215 and an army was gathered to confront the King. They forced King John to grant the ‘Magna Carta’ (Great Charter). The charter of liberties placed the King under the law. It was agreed by John in 1215 at Runnymede meadow and confirmed in its final form by Henry III in 1225. This peace treaty is a crucial document for England’s history. It only remained in this initial form force for 10 weeks, followed by various reissues. Yet it stands as one of the best known of all documents surviving from medieval England and has continued to influence our nation.
The limitations it imposed on a ruler is summarized in a key paragraph: “No free man shall be taken or imprisoned, or dispossessed or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor will we go or send against him except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land” (extract from Ch.39).
The charter assumed that the laws and rulers should be subject to God’s laws. The Bible teaches that God’s law is ‘written on their hearts’ (Romans 2v15). We call this the conscience, which acts as a restraining force on our conduct although it is imperfect as we are all sinners. This means that we need instructing and correcting in order to uphold God’s laws. We also need forgiveness and assistance if we are to follow God’s good and perfect will.
The impact was to guard against tyranny. The King was subject to the Law and ruled in conjunction with a group of peers who had the power to judge and led to the principle of trial by jury. It permitted the freedom of religion so that that church was self-governing. It granted the right to private property. It also ensured representation for any proposed government taxation and so it that led to the establishment of Parliament.
The bottom line was that the King is subject to a higher authority, which brought moral principles into play. It has since proven important to the protection of life, freedom and property through the ages. This alone ensures true freedom. For the Bible is total truth, providing a framework for all aspects of life.