Speech to the General Assembly of the Church of
Scotland, Edinburgh, 21 May 1988
The Old Testament lays down in Exodus the Ten Commandments as
given to Moses, the injunction in Leviticus to love our neighbour
as ourselves, and generally the importance of observing a strict
code of law. The New Testament is a record of the incarnation, the
teachings of Christ, and the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
Again we have the emphasis on loving our neighbour as ourselves and
I believe that by taking together these key elements from the
Old and New Testaments, we gain a view of the universe, a proper
attitude to work, and principles to shape economic and social
We are told we must work and use our talents to create wealth.
"If a man will not work, he shall not eat," wrote St Paul to the
Thessalonians. Indeed, abundance rather than poverty has a
legitimacy which derives from the very nature of Creation.
Nevertheless, the Tenth Commandment - "Thou shalt not covet" -
recognises that making money and owning things could become selfish
activities. But it is not the creation of wealth that is wrong but
love of money for its own sake. The spiritual dimension comes in
deciding what one does with the wealth. How could we respond to the
many calls for help, or invest for the future, or support the
wonderful artists and craftsmen whose work also glorifies God,
unless we had first worked hard and used our talents to create the
necessary wealth? . . .
We are all responsible for our own actions. We can't blame
society if we disobey the law. We simply can't delegate the
exercise of mercy and generosity to others. The politicians and
other secular powers should strive by their measures to bring out
the good in people and to fight down the bad; but they can't create
the one or abolish the other. They can only see that the laws
encourage the best instincts and convictions of the people,
instincts and convictions which I'm convinced are far more deeply
rooted than is often supposed. . .
In our generation, the only way we can ensure that no one is
left without sustenance, help, or opportunity is to have laws to
provide for health and education, pensions for the elderly, succour
for the sick and disabled.
But intervention by the state must never become so great that it
effectively removes personal responsibility. The same applies to
taxation; for while you and I would work extremely hard whatever
the circumstances, there are undoubtedly some who would not, unless
the incentive was there. And we need their efforts, too. . .
Nowhere in the Bible is the word democracy mentioned. Ideally,
when Christians meet, as Christians, to take counsel together,
their purpose is not - or should not be - to ascertain what is the
mind of the majority, but what is the mind of the Holy Spirit -
something which may be quite different.
Nevertheless, I am an enthusiast for democracy. And I take that
position, not because I believe majority opinion is inevitably
right or true - indeed no majority can take away God-given human
rights - but because I believe it most effectively safeguards the
value of the individual, and, more than any other system, restrains
the abuse of power by the few. And that is a Christian concept.
But there is little hope for democracy if the hearts of men and
women in democratic societies cannot be touched by a call to
something greater than themselves. Political structures, state
institutions, collective ideals - these are not enough.
We parliamentarians can legislate for the rule of law. You, the
Church, can teach the life of faith.
But, when all is said and done, the politician's role is a
These are edited extracts. The full speech can be found on