This year sees the 800th anniversary of the signing by John, King of England, of Magna Carta.
In January 1215, the lords of the realm had renounced their allegiance to the king in response to injustice and despotism. A full rebellion was avoided by intense arbitration leading to the signing of Magna Carta (Latin for “great charter”) in June 1215.
The Magna Carta guaranteed liberty for the people and the church, setting a standard for justice and upholding of the law.
All remaining copies of the original charter are held in England, but Australia and the USA both hold copies of the 1297 revision. Unfortunately, full acceptance of the charter did not follow immediately and there were at least two revisions within a century.
An important document
Although nearly all of its 60 original clauses were outdated long ago, Magna Carta remains one of the most important documents in the history of democracy. Its underlying principles have influenced the government of many English speaking nations besides the UK.
It is, for example, highly regarded in the USA. It has also had a beneficial effect on the wider world and it is true to say that the charter has affected the lives of many people worldwide.
But it is God that has overall control over the nations, not kings or governments or charters, as the Bible tells us:
“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Romans 13:1)
Although God does not remove all our trials, He undoubtedly moderates governments so that His servants may have a measure of freedom.
Freedom to worship God
Most of us have the freedom to worship and obey our God as we should. Magna Carta is one of the foundations from which this freedom to worship developed. It also enabled the emergence of the Protestant cause, which could not have flourished in an environment subject to the changing whims of absolute kings.
Even though freedom may take time to develop and has at times worn thin, we have much to thank our God for and shudder at the thought of the dark ages, when many suffered for their faith. The Bible describes what happens when democracy and freedom are absent:
“Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.” (Isaiah 59:14)
The Magna Carta legacy is, however, far from perfect under the rule of mortal man, despite the benefits for many; it is just an interim blessing.
Something to celebrate
Everybody wants a truly just and comprehensive system of government. That this will come is one of God’s promises.
The Bible describes a universal remedy for the failures of mankind. Take the Psalms, for example:
“Give the king your judgments, O God, and your righteousness to the king’s Son. He will judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice” (Ps. 72.1–2).
Another Psalm conveys urgency:
“For He is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth” (Psalm 96.13).
That assures us that all the people in the world will benefit. In another Psalm we are told:
“His judgments are in all the earth” (Psalm 105:7)
That perfect government will come to all the world when Jesus returns, as he promised he would.
Meanwhile, each of us has a duty to follow God’s instructions, as the prophet Isaiah wrote:
“Keep justice, and do righteousness, for my salvation is about to come, and my righteousness to be revealed” (Isaiah 56:1)
The Bible is God’s ‘magna carta’, offering each of us salvation and eternal life.
Now that’s certainly something to celebrate!