The First Battle/Life of William Jennings Bryan/The Law and the Gospel, by William J. Bryan

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1833The First Battle — The Law and the Gospel, by William J. BryanWilliam Jennings Bryan

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is rather by accident than by design that this sentiment has fallen to me. Had not my law partner been called unexpectedly from the State he would have responded with more propriety and more ability to "The Law and the Gospel".

These are important words; each covers a wide field by itself and together they include all government. There is not between them, as some suppose, a wide gulf fixed. Many have commenced with us only to be called to a higher sphere, and a few ministers have come to us when they were convinced that they had answered to another's call.

In the earlier days the prophet was also the lawgiver. He who wore the priestly robe held in his hands the scales of justice. But times are changed. For the good of the State and for the welfare of the church, the moral and the civil law have been separated. Today we owe a doubIe allegiance, and "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." Their governments are concentric circles and can never interfere. Between what religion commands and what the law compels there is, and ever must be, a wide margin, as there is also between what religion forbids and what the law prohibits. In many things we are left to obey or disobey the instructions of the Divine Ruler, answerable to Him only for our conduct. The gospel deals with the secret purposes of the heart as well as with the outward life, while the civil law must content itself with restraining the arm outstretched for another's hurt or with punishing the actor after the injury is done.

Next to the ministry I know of no more noble profession than the law. The object aimed at is justice, equal and exact, and if it does not reach that end at once it is because the stream is diverted by selfishness or checked by ignorance. Its principles ennoble and its practice elevates. If you point to the pettifogger, I will answer that he is as much out of place in the temple of justice as is the hypocrite in the house of God. You will find the "book on tricks" in the library of the legal bankrupt—nowhere else. In no business in life honesty, truthfulness and uprightness of conduct pay a larger dividend upon the investment than in the law. He is not only blind to his highest welfare and to his greatest good, but also treading upon dangerous ground, who fancies that mendacity, loquacity and pertinacity are the only accomplishments of a successful lawyer.

You cannot judge a man's life by the success of a moment, by the victory of an hour, or even by the results of a year. You must view his life as a whole. You must stand where you can see the man as he treads the entire path that leads from the cradle to the grave—now crossing the plain, now climbing the steeps, now passing through pleasant fields, now wending his way with difficulty between rugged rocks—tempted, tried, tested, triumphant. The completed life of every lawyer, either by its success or failure, emphasizes the words of Solomon—"The path of the just is as a shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day."

By practicing upon the highest plane the lawyer may not win the greatest wealth, but he wins that which wealth cannot purchase and is content to know and feel that "a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches; and loving favor rather than silver and gold."

There are pioneers of the gospel whose names you speak with reverence, Calvin, Knox, the Wesleys and Asbury, besides many still living, and you love them not without cause. There are those in our profession whom we delight to honor. Justinian and Coke, Blackstone and Jay, Marshall and Kent, Story and Lincoln, men who have stood in the thickest of the fight, have met every temptation peculiar to our profession, and yet maintained their integrity.

It is a fact to which we point with no little pride, that with a history of an hundred years no member of the Supreme Court of the United States has ever been charged with corrupt action, although untold millions have been involved in the litigation before the court. Nor do I now recall any member of the supreme court of any State who has been convicted of misusing his office.

"The Law and the Gospel." Great in their honored names, great in their history, great in their influence. To a certain extent they supplement each other. The law asks of the gospel counsel, not commands. The gospel goes far beyond the reach of law, for while the law must cease to operate when its subject dies, the gospel crosses the dark river of death and lightens up the world which lies beyond the tomb. The law is negative, the gospel positive; the law says "do not unto others that which you would not have others do unto you," while the gospel declares that we should "do to others that which we would that others should do unto us."

"The Law and the Gospel." They form an exception to the rule that in union there is strength, for each is strongest when alone. And I believe that the greatest prosperity of the State and greatest growth of the church will be found when the law and the gospel walk, not hand in hand, but side by side.

Source document[edit]

Mary Baird Bryan, "Life of William Jennings Bryan", in The First Battle: A Story of the Campaign of 1896, by William J. Bryan (Chicago: W. B. Conkey Company, 1896), pp. 48-49.